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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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