Competitions help mediocre at expense of most talented
Zaha Hadid has said she is to give up on Britain and focus her attention overseas. This decision was made after a competition in Glasgow selected a design clearly inferior to hers. In fact, the difference in design quality was so huge that any good architect should leave alongside her. Why do we have competitions when very often the least interesting design wins? Why has the layman jury member achieved so much prominence in recent years?
And, finally, what is wrong with choosing an architect whose work you love?
Wherever the fee is more than £30,000, the project must be subject to a competition. It is advertised in the Official Journal, where any suitably qualified person may submit their credentials for consideration. This process must be seen to occur. The next stage could be a simple shortlist. It should not include a fee tender, as no one really knows what the project entails. The more usual procedure is the appointment of a jury. In the UK, because of the difficulty of tendering a job in the early stages, we have the worst of all worlds. An architect is appointed to undertake a feasibility study and then asked to re-enter the competition and chance their arm against whoever. I know of no other country in the EU where this daft procedure takes place.
Consultants very often advise clients that they might put themselves at risk if they do not follow their advice and make architects sweat twice. Very often that consultant is the only person paid properly at that time. More procedure means more fees. Of course, the jury also gets paid more for sitting twice.
Lottery projects are among the worst cases.
The jury is comprised of mostly lay people who are not used to studying architectural proposals, but know what they like. There is an increasing number of these lay worthies emerging, a fact that architects should look at with some concern. What does Simon Jenkins know? I have used his guide to parish churches and I can assure you it is not architecturally edifying or scholarly.
Alan Yentob thought he had found a new practice of great excitement for the BBC White City project. Allies and Morrison is not new, nor is it exciting. It is no wonder that the likes of Hadid find difficulty in securing work in the UK.
Without even mentioning the words 'perceived construction cost', 'buildability'and 'track record', we are at the mercy of illinformed judges who often see their role as one of protecting the general public from architects. In our experience, we know that the general public cannot wait for a new and exciting project to emerge. They respond to individuality, desire and eroticism and where they find such a project local to them, they enjoy the fact that it makes their neighbourhood more desirable.
Great theatre directors, choreographers and others concerned with the performance arts often take on politically funded projects where their fee is considerably more than £30,000.
These opportunities do not appear to be subject to EU procurement requirements and, anyway, it would be absurd to buy the services of a great artist by tender. I have no doubt that the best architects are artists and should then be exempt from the procurement dogma that surrounds our competitions.
Architects have created this condition by producing bucketfuls of bad work, much of it in the regions. And I find it upsetting to hear our RIBA president-elect advocating the decentralisation of the RIBA and suggesting PFIs should encourage regional participation.
Come Mr Hyett, save us from second-rate schools, colleges and health centres - they already exist and they are rotten.You should be encouraging the likes of Hadid to do these projects, not mundane designers!