The Profession of a Building Surveyor

Posted by on Mar 15, 2019 in Building Surveying

The Profession of a Building Surveyor

I have always been aware of how fortunate I am having the privilege of doing what I love to do. I am passionate about buildings, in particular, historic buildings in all their varied forms as well as about construction techniques and materials.

I also have a strong interest in architecture and design.

Building Surveying comprises all of these. For me, it is like a good cocktail, just the right combination of X, Y and Z, all well mixed.

Through a series of blogs, I would like to talk about this, sharing my thoughts and experiences with you. Who knows, you might also want to “join the club” after reading them?

A Bit of Historical Background

If we look back into history there are a number of building related roles that can be seen to have been the precursors of modern Building Surveyors.

Back in the 13th century, monks and priests (i.e. “clerics” or “clerks”) were more literate than the builders of the age. As “Clerk of Works”, they took on responsibility of supervising the construction of churches and other religious property. Then, as the role expanded to cover the majority of buildings, it was undertaken by experienced and educated tradesmen, a role that is familiar today.

Historically in Scotland, there was also a designation called “Master of Works”. The Master of Works organised the trades rather like a Construction Manager today. The emergence of this position reflected a shift in responsibility from the masons, or administrators in holy orders, to designers with less need of hands-on knowledge of stonemasonry. Similar roles were also very popular at that time in different European Countries (“Maître d’Oeuvre” in France, “Direttore dei Lavori” in Italy or “Aparejador” in Spain).

The Master of Works to the Crown of Scotland, for example, was responsible for the construction, repair and maintenance of royal palaces, castles and other crown properties in Scotland. This position was roughly equivalent to that of Surveyor of the King’s Works in the English Royal Household.

The traditional procurement method was one in which the equivalent of a contractor was paid for the value of the executed work plus a profit percentage (Cost reimbursement contracts). This role served well up until the industrial revolution. The demand for buildings increased and builders began offering to build to a price. Building contracts and procurement routes became progressively complex including the integration of multiple trade packages which became riskier. Both clients and their advisers turned towards the “main contract” form of procurement with a heavy emphasis on detailed professional design being completed in advance. As a result, new roles such as “Estimators” and later on “Measurers” appeared.

Measurers evolved into Quantity Surveyors who started formalising their involvement in the construction process at an early date and were especially advanced in Scotland. They often saw their role as one of smoothing the construction process and making the market between the parties (Client and Contractors) function effectively. Typically, many “Quantity Surveyors” also called themselves “Building Surveyors”.

Building Surveyors have existed for a considerable number of years as a discipline within the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) but it was only in about 1975 that they got their own Division and the right to use the designation ‘Chartered Building Surveyor.’

Building Surveyors were often involved in small building projects and specialist building inspections.  They regularly did work that might have been done by an Architect.  The boom in domestic refurbishment work stimulated by Improvement Grants provided by local authorities under central government legislation particularly favoured the development of the profession, coinciding with their emergence as a separate profession in the 1970s.  From the late 1960s onwards some specialist Building Surveying practices emerged and competed with Architects.  Building Surveyors were expected to be able to produce drawings and specifications, apply for statutory consents and administer contracts in the same way as an Architect.

Over the course of the 1970s and 80s colleges in Scotland started to train Building Surveyors. Chartered Building Surveyors then emerged as a more uniform profession across England and Scotland and over time, Quantity Surveyors tended to retreat from building surveying.

In Australia, and possibly elsewhere, where British influence has persisted Building Surveying evolved separately as the name given to building control surveyors (a usage that may have originated from Britain) although Chartered Building Surveyors have subsequently penetrated into that market as well.  The term is also now reasonably well understood in other latitudes around the world.

Antonio Cabello

Chartered Building Surveyor

Associate Director