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Contractors: keep an accurate written brief or risk being found professionally negligent

In a case which emphasises the vital importance of contractors keeping accurate and up-to-date written project briefs, an architect who kept inefficient records has been ordered to pay a homeowner £500,000 due to his professional negligence.

The row centred around a home cinema which was supposed to look like a glass box ‘floating’ in the roof space of the homeowners’ pool room – but failed utterly to meet their expectations. In fact, they condemned the botched project as ‘an expensive white elephant’.

Listening to the case in the Technology and Construction Court (TCC), Judge Martin Bowdery totally agreed with them.

“I do not consider that this particularly ugly duckling can be turned into a swan,” he said. “What was provided is so different from what the claimants reasonably expected that I consider demolishing the cinema is the reasonable course going forward.”

The landmark case hinged on the architect’s failure to produce adequate written briefs – including drawings, sketches, models and detailed write-ups of the intended design as well as proof he had logged discussions and changes – which Judge Bowdery held was a serious breach of duty at the heart of all the project’s problems.

Background

Financier Philip Freeborn and his wife Christina Goldie hired architect Daniel Marcal to design a home cinema which they hoped would be ‘the architectural jewel’ of their £7 million North London home.

The plan, to produce a glass box ‘floating’ design, was revised in 2014 and 2015 but the couple said they were ‘shocked’ when they saw the finished version.

Their complaints included that Marcal had delivered a wooden box with glazed panelling rather than glass walls, that it had visible spider bolts, was supported on six legs not four and had a ‘wonky industrial’ aesthetic.

As a result, they took their claim for almost £1 million in damages to the TCC. Marcal denied liability.

Outcome

Judge Bowdery rejected parts of Marcal’s evidence when he failed to produce key documents and found his lack of a written brief for the cinema a serious breach of duty.

He awarded Mr Freeborn and Ms Goldie £500,000 to cover the cost of the botched construction project as well as money to have it pulled down and compensation for their distress. He said they were ‘entitled to be outraged’ by the final version of the home cinema.

Judge Bowdery said: “I consider that any architect authorised to spend sums in excess of £460,000 on a glass box would be expected to produce a design not only in accordance with his clients’ expectations but also something ‘bespoke’ and ‘high end.

“That is not what the claimants reasonably thought had been provided. What was provided had not been discussed with them and had not been approved by them.”

Implications

The case stresses the importance for all contractors, not just architects, of keeping accurate and contemporaneous written records of work instructed and undertaken as well as important meetings including dates, exactly who was present and minutes of everything that was discussed and decided.

For further help, please contact Building Work Disputes specialist, James Murray.

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