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BBC commission calls into question culture of unpaid work

The BBC's quest to select an architect for its new Scottish headquarters is a familiar tale. Dazzled by the prospect of a prestigious client, architects who should know better put too much time and money into a project that comes to nothing.

So what can be done to stop the torrent of wasted work? It may not be viable to impose a limit on the amount of time and money which is spent on a submission, but a rough-and-ready measure of resources can be defined in terms of the physical quantity of work to be produced.

A professional client has a responsibility to deliver a clearly defined brief, which should - as a matter of course - give a clear indication of the quantity of work required. But to be effective, the architects involved need to believe that the client will refuse to so much as glance at any work which is surplus to the requirements of the brief.

While there is any chance at all that an excessive amount of work will win approval rather than contempt, there is always the possibility that a 'school swot'will go the extra mile to win the client over. This puts all the parties involved under pressure to be just as prolific, simply so that it isn't a foregone conclusion that the school swot gets the prize.

Architects are complicit in the culture of unpaid work, and have got to take responsibility for change.What would have happened if Sauerbruch Hutton, David Chipperfield, Mecanoo, Richard Rogers Partnership, Page & Park, Wilkinson Eyre and Allan Murray Architects had got together as soon as the shortlist was announced and produced a document informing the BBC of the precise quantity of work which could be reasonably expected in return for the honorarium?

The BBC could, of course, have taken umbrage at this behaviour and reiterated its demand for a more comprehensive submission, but in so doing it would have soured relations with all of its preferred architects, and have alienated the profession as a whole. The chances are that it would have readily agreed - and that it might possibly have found a little more funding for the practices involved.

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