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Revealed: Shortlist for contentious RIBA office competition

Ben Adams, Moxon Architects and shedkm are among the six finalists in the competition to overhaul the RIBA’s new offices

The three practices are joined by Piercy & Company, Spacelab, and 2010 Stirling Prize-finalists Theis & Khan on the shortlist for the £2.7 million job to revamp RIBA’s new administrative centre at 76 Portland Place, close to the institute’s existing headquarters.

The competition, which received 32 entries, sparked controversy because of its onerous entry requirements which stated entrants had to have a minimum turnover of £334,000 - a condition it was feared would exclude most smaller practices.

However, following a profession-wide backlash, the RIBA released a briefing note claiming the minimum turnover prerequisite was ‘not a definitive eligibility requirement’. The institute was also forced to confirm that there would be ‘no fee bid and no requirement for prior experience’.

The shortlist was selected by a panel made up of Denise Bennetts of Bennetts Associates, Sasha Bhavan from Knox Bhavan Architects, RIBA president Stephen Hodder, RIBA chief financial officer Andy Munro and Oliver Richards of ORMS Architecture Design, with Glenn Howells acting as the RIBA architect adviser. 

Bennetts was brought in by Hodder following criticism that the panel was not diverse enough.

The RIBA president said: ‘We’re delighted with the volume of interest our 76 Portland Place project has generated. The quality of the 32 submissions and the range of practices who have expressed their interest in working on the project is very impressive. The field was so strong, the selection panel decided to increase the number of shortlisted teams, from five to six. We look forward to the teams’ presentations later this month.’

The new offices will replace the institutes existing offices at 77 Portland Place, housing all RIBA’s London-based staff under one roof, freeing up number 66 to become a building where RIBA said ‘staff and the public will experience, learn and debate architecture.’ 

The shortlisted teams will be interviewed at the end of the month, with a winner named on 29 November.

Finalists

  • Ben Adams Architects
  • Moxon Architects
  • Piercy & Company London
  • shedkm Architects
  • Spacelab
  • Theis & Khan Architects

Previous story (21.10.13)

RIBA shakes up judging panel for contentious Portland Place contest

The RIBA has appointed Denise Bennetts on the jury of the contest to design its new London office following criticism the judging panel was not diverse

Last week the institute bowed to pressure to change ‘appalling’ and ‘onerous’ conditions for the £2.7 million project to overhaul its future offices at 76 Portland Place, which stated that entrants had to have a minimum turnover of £344,000. Following the profession-wide backlash, the RIBA released a briefing note that claims the minimum turnover prerequisite is ‘not a definitive eligibility requirement’.

Now RIBA president Stephen Hodder has stepped into to shake-up the jury which had also come in for flak for being composed mainly of executive officers, rather than RIBA members or ‘eminent’ architects.

Hodder said: ‘I wanted greater diversity on the judging panel. Denise is an award-winning architect with significant workplace experience. She will also bring an invaluable external perspective to the RIBA.’

The co-founder of Bennetts Associates will replace RIBA executive director Richard Brindley on the panel which still includes RIBA chief executive Harry Rich and the institute’s chief financial officer Andy Munro.

Criticising the make-up of the original panel when it was announced earlier this month (AJ 10.10.13), Walter Menteth, director of Walter Menteth Architects and chair of the RIBA’s Procurement Reform Group chair said: ‘Fifty per cent of the panel are executors, not members. I would expect 100 per cent to be eminent architects; the great and the good should be on that panel.’

‘We should be asking for a review of PQQ conditions and of the judging panel.’

Robert Sakula of Ash Sakula was also critical. He said at the time: ‘The jury is entirely white, middle-aged males.’

Previous story (AJ 16.10.2013)

RIBA bows to pressure with U-turn on ‘insulting’ HQ competition conditions

Institute revises prequalification terms following backlash by members

The RIBA has bowed to pressure to change ‘appalling’ and ‘onerous’ conditions in the contest to design its new London office.

Architects slammed the institute’s 18-page pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) for the £2.7 million project to overhaul its future offices at 76 Portland Place, which stated that entrants had to have a minimum turnover of £344,000 – twice the proposed fee for the job.

Following the backlash, which included opposition from a number of Stirling Prize-shortlisted practices, the RIBA released a briefing note that claims the minimum turnover prerequisite is ‘not a definitive eligibility requirement’. The insitute also confirmed that there would be ‘no fee bid and no requirement for prior experience’.

Just hours after the contest was launched last week, the institute’s own Procurement Reform Group chair, Walter Menteth, said: ‘The RIBA should be an exemplar procurer. I would hope that this tender invite might be reviewed.’

Others criticised the RIBA for ignoring the institute’s own Building Ladders of Opportunities recommendations, published last year, aimed at opening up procurement. Questions were also asked about the ‘mean’ £50 registration fee, the length of the 18-page PQQ and the make-up of the judging panel, which is composed mainly of executive officers, rather than RIBA members or ‘eminent’ architects.

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.’

It is understood the RIBA had originally planned an open competition for the job but, due to the delay in exchanging contracts over 76 Portland Place, the institute opted for a ‘more risk-averse’ procedure.

Speaking to the AJ earlier in the week, former institute president Angela Brady called for a revised PQQ, saying: ‘We worked very hard on procurement reform. This PQQ needs major surgery to get it right. We are a visual profession, words can only convey so much.’

Robert Sakula, of Ash Sakula, agreed. He said: ‘I’m 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 that will involve practices in two to three days’ work, when a simple practice profile would be just as effective.’

Patrick Theis, director of 2010 Stirling Prize-shortlisted Theis and Khan, said the original turnover requirements would ‘probably’ have excluded them from entering. He said: ‘[This] demonstrates a lack of strength in the client, which should select on the basis of admiring the architect’s 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 chartered practices, and smaller firms, could enter.

Speaking today Hodder said: ‘The RIBA is committed to acting as an exemplar client in all stages of the design team selection, design and procurement process.

There is no fee bid and no requirement for prior experience

‘The selection of the design team will be based on the applicants’ approach, ability and capability to deliver in the short time allocated to the project. The latest briefing note clarifies that turnover is an important measure for assessing the resource available but is not a definitive eligibility requirement. 

‘There is no fee bid and no requirement for prior experience.

‘This is a hugely exciting project which has generated a lot of interest and presents a wealth of opportunity for the RIBA and our members.”

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