Comment on: Top UK talents to design Czech housing scheme
A review of all the submissions for this interesting scheme would be really welcome. It appears a truly fascinating exemplar that we might all learn a lot from.
Martin Knights points are very well put. Placing infrastructure investment alternatively in other areas along the riverside with multiple upgrades and new crossings would contribute more to public benefit. And do so without detriment to the existing amenity and iconic views. The central fallacy is the concentrated focus on public investment at the Southbank. This is now misplaced. The same issue underlines proposals to the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The post war ‘Festival of Britain’ vision for opening up this area into a cultural hub for Londoners has been successful. Its now time to move on. As the city has grown, we should engage a new wider vision for Londoners spreading more and better cultural and public amenity to other riverside locations. As Martin Knight points out the cost of this project is exorbitant, and probably sufficient to establish both a new crossing and new cultural hub. Then add to this the QEH costs. Why not for example invest at Nine Elms? London has many parks but only one river, so lets make more of this unique asset. This proposal is short of vision, nothing but a vanity project and with the power of populist visualisations - usurping logic and reason.
Comment on: Starchitects team up for Olympicopolis bids
There is enormous benefit in competitive selection based on design quality which can allow young and small practices to compete on a level playing field, to advance creative and innovative practice and produce higher quality construction. But because there are so few UK Design Contests each then attracts large numbers, this is a Catch 22. Restrictions such as those at the Olympicoplois are placed on competitors to thin down numbers. Design contests are not then open. At one level this has become a necessity. For example the ongoing Gugenheim Helsinki Competition Contest attracted 1,715 1st stage submissions. Average costs for Design Contest submissions (RIBA Procurement Survey 2012) amount to £5,000, which on the Helsinki 1st stage amounts to the profession expending more than euro 10.9m (over 8.3% of the construction budget). In such cases I believe the profession is being drained excessively for the clients benefit. To allow more design contests to occur on a level playing field that can offer better access and which are particularly suitable for less prestigious commissions they need to be more attractive to clients and the profession alike. The best route to achieve this is to develop access using new approaches such as the optional sortition system (RIBA Building Ladders of Opportunity Report) which places more reliance on the intelligent professionalism of architects. Where clients perceive risks might be excessive otherwise this can be addressed by the continental principle of allowing winning young practices to enter into production collaborations with established firms, and also by establishing base scales of honoraria for shortlisted participants. Together these principles allow Design Contests to be shaped more equitably for all. Denys Lasdun produced his first significant building aged 21. This was in a culture which perceived opportunity and professionalism as a benefit not a risk. It is time the profession engaged more fully with ensuring access, opportunity and reward are improved.
Well managed design contests when compared to eg one of the most common forms of public procurement which is the 2 stage restricted procedure followed by mini-competitions for framework call offs, are cheaper, for both architects and clients. What is not acceptable and I would agree - is Design Contests such as the recent Guggenheim with 1,715 entrants. Architects need to support adoption of the sortition system to address this which reduces needless work and is entirely equitable. More design contests provide more opportunities. Lets embrace the north european model delivering higher quality construction. One reasons design contests have become so tarnished in the UK is that they now comprise less than 1% of the public procurement market, and each one then attracts such enormous numbers. This is a catch 22 which needs to be broken. Everyone otherwise remains subscribing to competitions where selection is preceded by PQQs and is done on the basis of your bank balance, previous experience, ISO compliance, H&S docs., etc. I know what I think is better value and provides greater oppooirtunity. Read the RIBAs publication Building Ladders of Opportunity. Great news from Labour - for build quality, economics in construction and society, a very welcome announcement.
What I find interesting in this debate is the impact this vote might have on the rump UK and on Scotland if the vote (as is likely) is close. Will for example London emerge as a ‘Vienna’ after the collapse of the Austro Hungarian Empire - an eventual flight of capital from a city state overwhelming a declining economic hinterland. With a loss of c.10% of the UK population, 10% of GDP and almost half the land mass, its interesting to reflect on the implication for both England and Europe. My view is this is a debate about the state of the nation – and as much about England as Scotland - as we clearly should be doing more to understand why so many in Scotland feel ostracised from what they regard as an English political system. The nation politically, economically, culturally and socially might consider re-engaging with the notion of re distributive regional economies as clearly this is an issue highlighted by the Scottish vote that has been ignored for too long. Not just Scotland, but the northeast, Wales etc. Would Scotland become an exemplar for eg The Basques & Catalans or Wales and N. Ireland, and the notion of a free market espoused by the EU might in English eyes become reinforced by the need to engage with Scotland and a wider market. Alternatively if we continue as an inward looking London centred nation – maybe a rise in UKIP and a perverted English nationalism. If it’s a Yes vote we can expect that the rump UK won’t be invited to the same tier of intergovernmental conferences and international influence will wane along with our military. Whatever the outcome it is likely the vote will be closer than ever before – which sadly may leave Scotland divided for some time. But this debate, both in Scotland and as its perceived in the context of other regions of the UK will only have become more urgent. As a scot living in the south I don’t have a vote, although I fully recognise the honest held sentiments in Scotland on both sides. Nations do change and opportunity exists within every context, but if we want to remain united it is an issue for us all.