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RIBA attacked for excluding profession in contest for own offices

Architects have slammed the RIBA for ‘shutting out half the profession’, saying onerous conditions in the contest to design its new London premises are an ‘insult to members’

The pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) for the £2.7million project to overhaul its new offices at 76 Portland Place states that entrants must have a minimum turnover of £344,000 – twice the proposed fee for the job.

Questions have also been asked about the ‘mean’ £50 registration fee, the length of the 18-page PQQ and the make-up of the judging panel which is mainly executive officers rather than RIBA members or ‘eminent’ architects.

The process has also been criticised for ignoring the institute’s own Building Ladders of Opportunities recommendations, published last year, aimed at opening up procurement.

Magnus Ström of Ström Architects said the RIBA had turned its back on younger and smaller firms. He said : ‘A  turnover of nearly £350,000 suggests a practice of at least four or five staff which means RIBA is shutting out half of the profession. It is shocking.

‘We’re all obliged to pay into the chartered architect scheme but being a chartered practice [alone] is clearly not good enough for RIBA. It is an insult to members.’

Commenting on the contest on the AJ’s website, Robert Sakula of Ash Sakula said: ‘I am appalled by the terms of this competition. After all the hard work [that has been done] on trying to open opportunities to a wider range of architects, the RIBA is here closing them down again.

‘They have done an industry-standard PQQ which will involve practices in two to three days’ work, when a simple practice profile would be just as effective.

‘Worst of all, your turnover has to be twice their proposed architect’s fee of £172,000, effectively shutting out around 90-95 per cent of all chartered practices.’

Shih-fu Peng of 2013 Stirling Prize-shortlisted Heneghan Peng said he was also concerned by the reliance of [over-lengthy textual submissions] in the lengthy PQQ. He told the AJ: ‘Architects are visual not textual. I really don’t get it.

‘At the end of the day the client is not buying prose they are buying a finished building.’

Patrick Theis  director of 2010 Stirling Prize-shortlisted practice Theis and Khan said that  the turnover requirements would ‘probably’ excluded them too. He said: ‘[This] demonstrates a lack of strength in the client. The client should select on the basis of admiring the architects work.

‘It is a job we would love to put ourselves up for and make a point that turnover doesn’t matter’.

In response RIBA President Stephen Hodder insisted that chartered practices and particularly smaller firms could enter, ‘maybe collaborating’ and said a clarification would be sent out later this week. He said : ‘The RIBA welcomes the positive reaction and debate amongst our profession about our new premises at 76 Portland Place. 

‘The RIBA competition is an exemplar process designed to balance the particular demands of the project, the needs of the RIBA as a client, and encourage the widest and most appropriate participation.

‘We require applicants to demonstrate their capability and capacity to deliver this large and fast-paced project, with turnover used as an appropriate and sensible measure.

‘All chartered practices, particularly smaller firms, are encouraged to apply either working independently, or in collaboration with others to meet our criteria.’

Other comments:

Walter Menteth, director of Walter Menteth Architects and chair of the RIBA Procurement Reform Group

‘RIBA is not a public body [under the Public contract regulations] and need not apply public procurement methodologies on this project. So it seems that to propose useing turnover at the maximum level allowable under the new regulations (and it is discretionary), is extremely onerous.

‘The building has foundations, roof, floors and external walls. The risk is relatively low. Additionaly the professional values stated under Principal  2 of the RIBA code of conduct covers competency. Yet RIBA has opted for the most risk averse criteria.

Yet RIBA has opted for the most risk averse criteria

‘The RIBA should be an exemplar procurer; I am surprised they are not taking this opportunity to do so. Fifty per cent of the indicative panel are paid members of RIBA staff. I’d 100 per cent to be eminent architects; a mixed panel of the great and the good.

‘I would hope that this tender invite might be reviewed and some clarifications be issued at the earliest opportunity. The RIBA might also take this opportunity to empower the professionalism of its members

Readers' comments (3)

  • Is the RIBA President seriously suggesting that small practices collaborate on a fit-out of this scale just so we can meet with the onerous requirements of this competition?

    The RIBA dose so much to promote the good of the profession but on this occasion I dare say we’re looking rather foolish from the outside.

    The institute should be unswerving in standing up for all its members and this is a perfect opportunity to back the Building Ladders of Opportunities recommendations.

    Would be fantastic to see a u-turn on this.

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  • I support Walter completely in his views on this. We have fought very hard to ensure that Chartered Practice status is recognised as a mark of excellence in itself.
    Beyond that should remain only the matter of a practice's experience and skills, suitable to deliver a fast paced and very visible proposal.
    The size of a practice's bank balance or number of support staff cannot be the determining factor for suitability for a task - and this is not the case in Europe.
    The Institute has the opportunity to demonstrate truly enlightened 21st century procurement - and they fall short here with this competition PQQ sadly.
    I like the requirement to give lots of written background, and would like some visuals as support to assist the shortlisters - as this will be one popular competition! Good luck all - I hope many enter this one. Jane

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  • The RIBA need to accept they have got this wrong, as has the president with his suggestion that smaller practices should team up with larger companies to qualify on turn-over. The membership expects more respect from the institute. I suggest each year a Chartered Practice is given an RIBA PPQ accreditation which gives them access to all public sector work within their band withoyt a subsequent PPQ and the client selects an architect on past work and interview.
    Chris Roche RIBA
    Founder 11.04

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