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Absence of judges in Newham is inexplicable

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I was the senior RIBA assessor for the Brookes Road competition in Newham (AJ 29.1.04). The judging took place over two sessions.

At the initial session, a shortlist of six was made and at the second assessment each of the six teams, with their consultants, presented their schemes and answered indepth questions over a period of about 45 minutes.

Piercy Conner's scheme (pictured) stood out from the start.

It was radical and thoughtprovoking, adaptable and easily intelligible to local residents.

The prefabricated structures were designed to have a minimal impact on existing buildings and to allow for infinite variations. The whole scheme was complemented by Studio Engelbach's landscaping scheme, the qualities of which were drawn out at the interview. In short, it was an original and innovative architectural solution to a potentially dull and bureaucratic problem.

Unfortunately, Newham council, its mayor, chief housing officer and estate manager were completely absent from the entire judging process. Their presence on the jury had been published in the competition terms and it became a cause of growing concern. Their absence is inexplicable and certainly requires an explanation. Had they bothered to take part in the process they would have had the opportunity to understand the selected schemes and raise any questions. Linda Roberts of the RIBA Competitions Office was very concerned and did, I believe, write to the council about this.

The rest of the process descended into a farce. I was asked to attend a meeting with Newham to explain the winning scheme. Due to the ineptitude of Edwards, the project manager for the competition, I travelled to West Ham at the agreed time only to be told by mobile phone at the tube station to return to my office because the meeting had been terminated. It was presumably at this meeting that the scheme was described, or misrepresented, by others.

The council, through its project managers, then issued a letter with three points of criticism of Piercy Conner's scheme.

Each of these points showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the scheme and could have been easily addressed had Newham bothered to attend the interviews.

As a last desperate measure I was asked by the RIBA Competitions Office to ring Newham's project manager for Brookes Greene Estate to try to salvage the situation. This conversation was completely fruitless and I was told I was ringing up to whinge and that he was not prepared to listen to whinges.

It is hard to draw positive lessons from this experience. A huge amount of work was generated by all the entrants with high expectations and complete trust in the judging process.

The RIBA Competitions Office was supportive and positive throughout but there must be some mechanisms for the RIBA to ensure that its clients are following agreed procedures.

Questions must also be asked of Newham and the public accountability of their decisionmaking processes.

Nicholas Boyarsky, Boyarsky Murphy Architects, London

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