MILTON KEYNES GETS SECOND BEST
One of the three British sites in the latest Europan competition has, perhaps predictably, become mired in controversy.
Yet this time the shoe is on the other foot. It is the architects, and not the competition's organisers, who are the source of the problem.
Last week, Europan overseer CABE announced it had failed to find a clear winner for one of the contest's three sites, in Milton Keynes.
This was because a competition jury, headed by Sauerbruch Hutton director Louisa Hutton, and including experts from Urban Splash, English Partnerships and McDowell + Benedetti, simply didn't think the designs submitted were up to scratch.
Instead of selecting one practice as a winner, it instead decided to settle on two 'runner up' schemes, neither of which they believed was good enough to win outright.
One of the runners up - designed by two Poles, Lukasz Wojciechowski and Marta Mnich - was criticised for not being 'realistic enough' to work as a housing development.
The other, designed by a trio of British architects, Richard Henson, Kristina Lundvall and James Payne, was slated for its 'urban design', apparently not being a practical place for residents to live.
The project judges claim that, although CABE was keen to find an outright winner, English Partnerships, the landowner, was reluctant to award the top place to anything it felt was less than 'brilliant'.
CABE commissioner Hutton told the AJ: 'It was a unanimous decision of the jury.
We felt neither project was up to the level of a clear winner.' Design for Homes boss and jury member David Birkbeck shed more light on the jury's decision. He said: 'All the schemes were a bit wobbly on the urban-design front.' He claimed that English Partnerships, in justifying the use of taxpayers' money to develop the site - a key location on the outskirts of the city centre, earmarked for 40 homes - could not settle on anything less than superlative.
The wealth of young British talent involved with the project greeted this explanation with bemusement.
Architect Patrick Lynch, one of the entrants said he was 'confused' about the messages CABE was sending out. He said it was unclear what stance it was taking over its preferred style of housing and how it related to its environment.
Will Foster, co-founder of up-and-coming Foster Lomas, said he was glad he had pulled out of the competition at an early stage, after a site visit when his inquiries to the local authority regarding Europan were met with blank stares.
One of the runners up, Poland-based Lukasz Wojciechowski, claimed a departure by Europan from an emphasis on 'non-deliverable ideas' was forcing entrants to come up with practical solutions to tricky briefs.
Wojciechowski will now get the chance to prove his worth. The two shortlisted practices will meet with English Partnerships to see if something can ultimately be built. Not what they expected, but surely better than no scheme at all.