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Clients must have faith

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Leader Clients on large-scale projects must show a little more faith in their architects, says Kieran Long, otherwise unspectacular designs will abound

The capital’s two highest-profile construction projects – the Olympics and Crossrail – both made gestures at their inceptions towards architectural quality, with flashy images from high-profile architects. But two stories this week raise question marks about the delivery of that aspiration and the clients’ commitment to the practices engaged.

Schemes like the Jubilee Line Extension of the late ’90s, with its cost and procurement nightmares, have left a legacy of caution among clients of large-scale projects. But the result of that is, for example, that Portsmouth’s football ground (by Herzog & de Meuron) will be more spectacular than the Olympic Stadium (by HOK). That hurts me, speaking both as an architecture lover and a Southampton-raised football fan.

This caution exists everywhere. I recently sat on the jury of a competition for a housing masterplan. There was a practice that some felt should win, but politicians raised doubts about the youngish firm’s ability to deliver. This practice had 15 employees and at least one job of £30 million in the office. There seemed little doubt to me about its capacity.

Many large commissioning bodies and public clients are now so far from understanding the architectural profession that they think that firms with partners of 20 years experience and 15-20 employees are too small or unreliable to deliver large projects to time and budget. Rubbish. Of course they can.

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