An "extraordinary" number of directorships were held by directors of the petitioning companies "no doubt for the best fiscal reasons", he added.
Taken from Dearbhail McDonald and Thomas Molloy's article in the Irish Independent today.
A small detour into the exciting world of cultural anthropology is necessary to understand the above quote. It has less to do with fiscal reasoning and a lot more to do with preservation of a culture. The culture of Zoe developments has to do with protection from outside corrosive factors of a kind of 'basket weaving' skill only they know how to execute.
That is why Zoe were always so suspicious of external consultants. External consultants would simply march in and smash and trample over whatever indigenous knowledge and tradition that Zoe developments had managed to foster. External consultants and in particular consultant architects don't give a fiddler's curse about the building trades. Or how they are supposed to fit together in one harmonious assembly process. This is the kind of 'basket weave' I have come to know and love, that is not on the consultant's radar.
A native dialect was developed within the walled gardens of Zoe developments and for the sake of calling it something, I will call it 'Liam o'. The reason is, so many sentences in so many conversations at Zoe started with 'Liam o would do this' or 'Liam o would do that'.
Architects don't like to speak in 'Liam o'. It offends their pretentions to become designers of world dominating and global stature. Architects long to be plugged into something greater than a domestic network of plumbers, electricians and tradesmen. In an era of Big Brother and reality TV shows, people will do a lot for fame.
Working within the architectural profession is like participating in one of the sickest reality TV shows of all. Designs become a 'cry for help', throwing themselves about and making the wildest kind of shapes. All beauty and logic of the 'basket weaver's' approach goes out of the window. That was the kind of cultural disintegration in the building industry that Zoe tried to protect themselves from. That is why so few directors held so many positions in those companies.
There were a couple of different flavours of 'Liam o' spoken within the Zoe organisation. A more colourful version was spoken by those closer to the cold face than those priveleged to work in Chapel house. But in all honesty, it was all colourful and spoken by a director, it often turned into poetry.
The particular kind of basket weaving skill the small circle of Zoe's directors tried to protect was something that can only be visualised if you think of a company such as Toyota. Toyota is a company where every worker on the production line has the ability to pull a chord and to stop the line whenever they want to. The ironic thing about this, the Toyota production line stops very infrequently.
On the other hand, at more traditional American car manufacturers only the highest managers in the plant have the authority to stop the production line. But there, the line stops often. Zoe was not like Ford or General Motors, it was more like Toyota. At any stage, anywhere, any person on the line could pull the chord. That is what the walled garden of Zoe developments was designed to protect, that right of the individual worker. To an external consultant that prospect was simply horrifying.
I remember sitting at the Zoe Christmas dinner at the end of 2007 at the noisiest table of all. It belonged to the close knit group of finishing foremen who had recently completed 1,500 new apartment units at Tallaght Cross. One of the senior members of that group told me (while not acting the mick) the consultant architect at Tallaght Cross had to learn the simple fact, that Zoe finishing foremen were in fact the 'client' and that the architects were working for them.
Of course, as the project neared its snagging stages a fight ensued between the Zoe culture and the external architect. Each side keen to enshrine their own importance. At Tallaght Cross, the Zoe men had painted their Mona Lisa. They achieved a fit out rate of 40 apartments a week. Better than Toyota ever could have done.
On one occasion, the architect took the fight to town entirely and ordered the foremen to move every light switch in the 1,500 apartments down 2.5 centimeters. They said, in order to comply with Part M disabled access regulations. Such was the level of petty bitching their relationship with the 'client' had collapsed into.
The real truth of the matter was the building boom was over and architects were scratching their behinds. Neither sides' livelihood would last much longer. No, the consultant architect never spoke fluent 'Liam o' and they still don't. They want to see the culture killed off for good. The culture was protected by a small loyal band of Zoe's directors.
It humours me these days to meet young architects who have pretentions of grandeur because they have learned to calculate the thermal properties of a construction detail. All I can say, is go and work for a company such as Zoe developments and learn about the 50 or so other dimensions that really must go into a detail for ease of assembly and cost efficiency.
I had a strange flashback to my days spent at Zoe when I listened to Tom Cosgrove demonstrate his structural design for Thomond Park stadium in Limerick. Tom put one slide on the screen of a 'moment connection' between the steel roof structure and the concrete terrace. He explained the different tolerances of the two contractors and their materials.
I wanted to ask Tom a question. Why is the culture of the architect based around the fact that one draws 'only one detail'. That detail of assembly represents only an ideal condition. Where every single component of a huge stadium structure is exactly in the right place. A condition only satisfied in some theoretical parallel universe. In real life, everything has to be assembled and built by human hands.
What we should really be doing, when we issue an instruction to the assembler, is draw three or four details. What to do if this happens, what to do if something else happens. Create diagrams to represent real conditions rather than an ideal condition. The ideal condition may not arise even once in the entire job. But consultant architects build their contract documents around such nonsense.
We didn't have contract documents at Zoe, so much as assemblers' instructions. The Airfix model airplane instruction analogy was often used to explain how the no-blame culture of Zoe developments should work. If you could not give your drawings to a kid to put together a project, then the conclusion within Zoe was you hadn't done your job well enough.
That is the conflict between the consultant culture and the Zoe culture. Zoe aspired to having a 'no blame' culture. The consultants tried to blame everyone they could. At Zoe developments, we learned to give the assembler a full set of instructions backed up with contingencies for matters that would no doubt arise in real site conditions.
That is the basket weaving culture that a small group of Zoe directors strove to protect. It was less to do with fiscal reasoning and a lot more to do with cultural anthropology that is specific to the construction industry. It has a language of it's own, only understood and spoken fluently by those within that industry. They don't even realise they are using it, it is that native to them. Tom Cosgrove is one of those people who speaks the language well. So were Zoe developments.
The 'basket weaving' language was important because it enabled thousands of people to go about their business on sites in an orderly, civilised and above all safe manner. It was an important language and it did save lives and limbs. It will continue to be spoken I have no doubt, despite all efforts from consultants to stamp it out. It will survive because it is ultimately the right way and the sustainable way to conduct business. Architects simply haven't realized that yet.
The only thing wrong with the basket weaving culture was it meant directors had not learned the skills sufficient to manage large capital investment programs. That is why I did research on another advanced construction industry culture. The one at Dublin Airport Authority that was tailored around ideas of Turner and Townsend program management consultants from Britain.
If the two cultures can be encouraged to 'blend' together in developments at Zoe's 150 acre Harristown site, we would really see something special emerge. Something that would be born and bred of these shores. While at the same time, cross-bybridized with ideas born at the Terminal 5 project in London's Heathrow airport. Without the cross-hybridization process, it will lead to the small group of directors at Zoe making decisions that are short sighted and for the worst. A suitable balance needs to be struck.
Brian O' Hanlon