The age of computers — and continuing challenges (Towards the centenary, 1980 to 2004)On the technical front, building services has changed more in the last 25 years than in the previous 75 years. Commerical and economic problems ,however, remain stubbornly persistent.At the beginning of 1980, there would scarcely have been a computer to be seen in the offices of most building-services companies. 25 years later, 100 years since the roots of the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association, computers are ubiquitous. The growth of computer-aided design has changed almost every aspect of the business, including design, estimating, planning, cost control and communications. Micro-chip technology has also transformed the control and management of building-services systems, having progressed from centralised computer control to intelligent outstations that can ‘think’ for themselves and be linked together. More recent innovations enable the Internet to provide major opportunities for the sharing and transmission of information and the remote control of services in buildings. Energy efficiency Services design became more specialised, with emphasis on energy efficiency and consumption — a longer term consequence of the energy crisis of the early 1970s. Planned preventive maintenance and cost-in-use became issues. Expertise was moved off site and into the factory as the benefits of prefabrication were realised. Further steps towards better-serviced buildings came with the recognition fo the need for specialist commissioning teams and professional facilities managers. Major challenges to the growing air-conditioning market were posed by the outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease at Stafford District General Hospital in the Spring of 1985 and the discovery in the 1970s and 1980s that CFCs such as R11 and R12 were responsible for destroying the ozone layer over the Antarctic. The Stafford outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease was the worst in the world, with 37 deaths. It was associated with legionella bacteria in cooling towers. Concerns over the depletion of the depletion of the ozone layer led to international co-operation on a huge scale, culminating in the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which became effective in 1989. On the economic front, the last 25 years were as challenging as any of the three previous quarter centuries. The challenging economic situation of the 1960s and 1970s continued into the 1980s and well into the 1990s. Construction output continued to decline, and competition was intense. In 1983, the suicidal level of tender prices led to record levels of bankruptcies among HVCA members The poor economic situation led to skill shortages as reduced apprentice intake started to have an effect. Contractual environment The contractual environment became more aggressive, with penalty clauses and guarantees in contracts becoming more frequent. Public-spending restrictions and the need for rebuilding in some inner cities prompted partnerships between the public and private sectors. They proved to be the beginning of the Private Public Partnership (PPP), and larger HVCA members became heavily involved in projects financed through Private Finance Initiatives.
Can the Lloyds of London Building already be 20 years old! Services for this controversial building, with its external ductwork, were installed by Haden Young.
As HVCA entered its centenary year with a membership of 1345 companies, many of the problems that led to the formation in 1904 of an organisation to represent the special interests of contractors still remain. Tendering practices and payment problems were issues in 1904 — and remain so today, adversely affecting relationships, profitability and, therefore, development in the sector. The need for and role of an association addressing the special problems of contractors are, perhaps, greater today than in 1904.