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Hat-trick of contest-winners sunk by funding hitches

A trio of RIBA competition-winning schemes have hit the rocks due to a lack of funds

In Liverpool, Duggan Morris Architects’ 50m-tall Mersey Observatory has been shelved and appears unlikely to ever make it off the drawing board.

The £11.5 million proposal, selected ahead of 90 other competition entries in March 2008, was set to attract 250,000 visitors a year.

Although the Northwest Regional Development Agency funded the competition, it admitted no cash was ever available for the design. However, it is understood the local community is considering alternative ways to take the project forward.

Joe Morris, principal at Duggan Morris Architects, said: ‘Competition organisers… should be much more explicit regarding the nature and status of any competition so that competitors can be clear about what it is they are getting involved with.

‘The Mersey Observatory does seem to have ended in the same cul-de-sac as many open competitions, with no funding and no prospect of moving forward,’ he added.

In Wales, Softroom’s student residences for Glyndwr University in Wrexham have been dropped for a cheaper option.

The practice won the job (pictured below) following a two-stage RIBA competition in December 2008, but the university has since decided on a ‘more cost-effective’ solution, believed to be the £40 million Wrexham Village project being built on land adjacent to Wrexham FC’s grounds.

Chris Bagot of Softroom, whose RIBA competition-winning bridge in Sefton has just completed, said: ‘The benefit of open competitions for architects is that they allow you to be judged on the quality of your skills, not just your reputation.

‘Sadly, our ability to deliver wasn’t the problem and it is disappointing we’re unlikely now to get the chance to prove them right on this point,’ he added.

Bagot continued: ‘We”ve had good experiences in our dealings with the RIBA Competitions Office, but it would be better for architects if their remit was expanded so that they could more explicitly provide a service to the competitors as well as their clients.

‘But rather than knocking the current process, what we would most like to see is better promotion of why the competition process is good for clients and the public, as well as architects, so that we might have a healthier culture of regular competitions in this country.’

The £3 million River Douglas Bridge scheme by JDA Architects and Arup is also understood to have floundered due to a lack of money. The design team saw off 110 entrants to land the contest in October 2008. However Lancashire County Council said that while the project remained an ‘aspiration’ there was neither the funding nor a timescale currently on the table.

A spokesman for the RIBA’s competitions office said: ‘We are always extremely disappointed to learn if projects are not successful in securing funding and therefore unable to progress.’

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