ELEPHANT FOLLOWS RISKY PATH
This week Southwark Council unveiled the second wave of schemes to rehouse residents from the soon-to-be demolished 1960s Heygate Estate at Elephant and Castle.
Each development has been designed by one of 16 up-and-coming practices, chosen from the south London authority's 'architectural pool'.
The council has now appointed architects for all but three of the 14 sites earmarked for development, including the likes of Panter Hudspith, de Rijke Marsh Morgan and Sarah Wigglesworth.
For each plot, Southwark holds a small architectural competition between two or three interested practices.
It is an unusual approach for any local authority, but Chris Horn, the Elephant's development director, believes traditional 'procurement' methods stie creativity.
Not everyone, however, agrees that this process will deliver signicantly better schemes. Niall McLaughlin has walked away from further involvement with Elephant.
Horn is insistent, however, that the chosen route is right: 'If you do the same things as everybody else you are not open to criticism.
'Organisations have become more focused on delivering targets, using standard components and laying off risk.'
He adds: 'We wanted to have an individual approach to each site? so we invited small practices to interpret and express that.'
Horn also believes that current procurement procedures, such as OJEU notices, are unfairly geared towards larger rms which can regurgitate variants of existing designs.
In contrast, Southwark has opted for a system which involves practices and creates 'strong buildings without replicating forms'.
Yet only a handful of other authorities have taken any interest in following suit - although King's Cross developer Argent has paid more attention.
And the decision of Niall McLaughlin, who is perhaps in a better nancial position to turn away work than younger rms, to quit will come as a serious blow.
The award-winning architect became increasingly concerned about the quality of the end product, and was replaced by FAT.
McLaughlin says: 'We received competition conditions and draft contracts earlier this year and, once we had seen the documents, we decided that the competition and contract conditions did not allow us adequate resources to carry out the work to a standard that we would be happy with.'
What's more, while some of the larger sites may by split, it's probable that somebody will be left disappointed.
Architectural upstart AOC, for instance, may be worrying why it hasn't been picked yet.
Horn is only too aware this selection experiment has still to prove itself. He admits: 'It's too early to be complacent. We haven't built most of it yet.'
Even so he's adamant he would rather try his luck with eager young practices than rely on other procurement routes.
He concludes: 'The alternative is too awful to contemplate.'