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Big guns lose out to local practice for Soil Association HQ project

The Soil Association has shunned several of the country's leading practices in favour of a relative unknown to design its new headquarters.

The AJ has learned that young practice White Design has beaten off competition in the final round from Edward Cullinan Architects, while heavyweights Wilkinson Eyre, Bennetts Associates, Fielden Clegg Bradley Architects, Penoyre & Prasad Architects and Ushida Findlay were all eliminated in the first round.

The Soil Association, whose patrons include the Prince of Wales, sought advice from the Prince's Foundation over the selection process. But director Michael Holden denied the foundation had been involved in the decision to eliminate the most obvious Modernist candidates in the early stages, or to select the final winner.

Holden told the AJ an announcement on the winner would not be made for several weeks, and he refused to comment on the reasons for the delay.

However, Edward Cullinan director Robin Nicolson said he had been told his practice had not been chosen and that he was approaching the charity for a fuller explanation. Nicolson said he understood Bristol-based White Design, the only other practice on the final shortlist, had won.

The project will create a national centre for the charity on a site in Bristol, to be completed within four to five years. 'This building will become the public face of the Soil Association, physically embodying our values and philosophy and providing an affordable, sustainable, efficient and pleasant working environment for our growing numbers of staff, ' the association said. 'It will be financed by a combination of voluntary and statutory funding.'

The initial longlist was also understood to include Acanthus Ferguson Mann, Percy Thomas Partnership and Alex French.

Holden admitted that the Soil Association was one of a number of charities to receive a letter from the Prince last year, advising that he would only support new building projects if he approved the style of the architecture. However, Holden said he had approached the Prince's Foundation for advice before receiving the letter.

He added that he shared the Prince's views on architecture and his bias against Modernism. But he insisted: 'I can honestly say that any decisions we've made so far have been done without any pressure from either the Prince or the Prince's Foundation.'

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