Grenfell architects were ‘learning on the job’

The architecture firm in charge of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment was “learning on the job”, according to one of its staff.

Studio E architects were tasked with redesigning the 24-storey block having been involved in the renovation of the nearby Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre (KALC).

Neil Crawford, who managed the project from summer 2014, made the admission while giving evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry on Thursday.

When asked by counsel for the inquiry Richard Millett QC about the firm’s experience with work similar to Grenfell, Mr Crawford said: “You’re always learning on the job.

“Architecture is not, you know, you’re not pressing out the same car over and over again – every project is unique, it has its own challenges, its own set of learning.”

Mr Millett pressed the question, again, and asked: “Would it be fair to characterise… in respect of a residential project involving overcladding of a high-rise residential tower block, Studio E was learning on the job?”

Mr Crawford responded: “In the context that they hadn’t done one before, yes.”

The inquiry earlier heard that the staff involved in the renovation did not have experience overcladding residential high-rise buildings.

Mr Crawford – who is not a registered architect and asked to be referred to as a project manager in Thursday’s hearing – also told the inquiry he had no experience using the cladding that was selected for Grenfell.

He said the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was selected before he joined the team, and was something he had never used in his work.

He added: “I had seen the product before, and I understood it was a commonly used rainscreen panel type.”

Last year, the first stage of the inquiry found that the cladding system was the “principal” reason for the fire’s “profoundly shocking” spread up the north Kensington block in June 2017.

Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick concluded that the flames shot up the building at such speed because of the combustible ACM cladding with polyethylene cores which acted as a “source of fuel”.

A total of 72 people died in the blaze.

Mr Crawford’s turn in the witness box follows Bruce Sounes, the original lead architect on the Grenfell refurbishment, whose evidence was cut short on Wednesday when he suddenly fell ill.

The hearings will continue on Monday.