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Brits to miss out on Iraq rebuild

British architects are set to lose out on a 'vast financial opportunity' in the reconstruction of Iraq because US companies have already sewn up all the biggest deals.

Trade bodies representing UK practices are furious because the entire $800 million US aid fund will be 'legally tied', forcing the recipients to use only US-based consultants.

The British Consultants and Construction Bureau, of which the RIBA is an associate, warned that unless the British government pushes for changes to this system 'almost all the design work' will go to US practices.

BCCB chief executive Colin Adams told the AJ that Iraq would suffer from the absence of British architects.

'We would like the government to ensure that, at the least, construction funded by British aid goes to British firms, ' he said. 'But the government is in a very difficult position because it does not want to look like it is ambulance-chasing.'

Adams also said the government needed to avoid repeating 'many of the mistakes of Kuwait'.

After that Gulf war in 1991, the US army's Corp of Engineers arrived first and 'distributed all the reconstruction contracts to American firms'.

The allied countries, dominated by the UK and the US, have proposed the wholesale post-war reconstruction of Iraq - a programme to be overseen by the UN and expected to include a vast number of new schools and at least 80 hospitals.

But GMW Architects' director Lyn Edwards, who worked on the reconstruction of war-torn Macedonia, said he was frustrated that US firms had already 'parceled up this work'.

'This is hugely unfair, ' he said. 'The most we can hope for is that we can get work from the Americans in the second phase of the rebuilding.'

And Miller Hughes Associates, a practice that designed two masterplans for Iraq in the early 1980s, warned that the US needed UK expertise to ensure the support of the population.

'The trouble is that American architects tend to see everything in terms of designing another Los Angeles, which would be a disaster, ' managing director Charles Hughes said. 'The Brits are much better at designing architecture that respects Arabic and Iraqi traditions.'

The RIBA's head of policy, Ian Pritchard, said the RIBA fully backed the BCCB's efforts. 'We are one of the only countries with untied aid, ' he said.

'We are being fair and virtually nobody else is.'

But Llewelyn-Davies' Ken Cooke disagreed, saying British architects should be more realistic.

'The fact is that the Americans are putting more into the war effort than anyone else and should reasonably expect to take out more, ' he said.

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