The Landscape Guide

2.5 Fordism and the built environment

Contents list

Current design and planning practice in the built environment professions retains a disastrous similarity to Fordist production arrangements. The knowledge employed is abstract knowledge, gained in colleges. Professionals are "advisers', not managers. The public are "consultees', not planners. The design process begins with a big idea, traditionally scribbled on the back of an envelope. It is then passed down the design team, with more and more junior people checking the final details. At the "coalface', on construction sites, workers are treated as indifferent automatons. They must obey written specifications, drawings and regulations, often drafted by people without practical experience of doing the job. Management contracting, and design-and-build, are bringing about changes, but component designers and clients still have little prospect of becoming involved.

Nor do users of places and buildings have anything but a marginal role in the design process, even if they are the owners, which is never the case for bridges, public parks, mass housing, or speculative office developments. As with design for mass production, design teams for built environment projects tend to start small and expand. Once formulated, the plans are submitted to municipal authorities, modified and agreed. When such plans are implemented, they often run into stiff opposition. "Why weren't we consulted?' everyone wants to know. The technically correct reply, that "You elected the people who hired the people who took the decisions', gives little comfort. It is Fordist autocracy. Henry took all the decisions himself. Lean design thrusts as many decisions as possible onto the shoulders of the workforce and the users. It deconstructs the Fordist hierarchy. It is knowledge-intensive instead of resource-intensive.


The back of an enveolpe was the classic place to start a 20th century design project

Elections are a poor substitute for participation in decision-nmaking