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A MEANS OF WIELDING POWER WITHOUT THE NEED FOR EXPERTISE OR TASTE

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It would be tempting to dismiss the Mayor of Warsaw's appalling disregard of architects' work as evidence that foreign institutions have yet to gather pace with the sophisticated system of architectural patronage we have in the UK (see page 11). But it is symptomatic of a paradox which is prevalent worldwide. The most important architectural commissions tend to be in the gift of people who have no architectural experience or knowledge. Political leaders and heads of key institutions are under enormous pressure to demonstrate strong leadership, while being woefully ill-equipped for the task in hand.

Tick-box selection procedures, however convoluted or absurd, are a godsend to the ignorant client. They offer certainty in an uncertain world; a means of wielding power without the need for expertise, discretion, understanding or taste. It is laughable that such international heavyweights as David Chipperfield and Eduardo Souto de Moura were deemed 'unfit' to compete to design Warsaw's Museum of Modern Art on the basis of spurious 'technicalities'. But is it any more laughable than the countless instances of practices who are blacklisted by British clients because they cannot demonstrate that, say, they are not accredited conservation architects, or they address issues of sustainability in a way which is not directly compatible with BREEAM, or they cannot demonstrate an adequate grasp of KPIs?

We are adept at dreaming up objective measures of quality and skill. But in giving them too much credence we belittle the importance of creative thinking, informed judgement and critical debate. As the Mayor of Warsaw has just found out, expert opinion can be troublesome and embarrassing - much easier to reduce the act of passing judgement to a simple bluffer's guide.

Warsaw can at least take credit for appointing jurors with the expertise to exercise sophisticated judgement. It's a shame their advice was ignored.

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