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Design competitions are ‘abusive’, says Viñoly

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International starchitect Rafael Viñoly has hit out at the competitions process, claiming design contests are ‘abusive’ and calling for a new process

The architect behind the expansion of Manchester City football club and the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station, said contests were now ‘more than anything else, a fundraising exercise’.

Mocking the process, he said: ‘Why don’t we call 20 architects and have them all spend half a million pounds for free?’

He added: ‘It is abusive. But only because the profession goes along with it.’

As an alternative, Viñoly used the example of a 19th century civic design contest in New York, where the six competing architects were also the judges. He said this approach, though expensive, could ensure ‘vitality’.

‘It forces the client to not be loose about [the brief]. It would be therapeutic for the architect I think.’

Comments by Viñoly, who admitted he was a ‘very big proponent’ of design compeitions in theory, came as leading industry figures focused on procurement reform and an end to architects working for free.

RIBA President Angela Brady promised an overhaul of procurement and competitions in her inaugural speech this week and has established a cross-profession taskforce to find a solution to the issue.

Responding to Viñoly she said that working for free ‘immediately de-valued’ architects and urged the profession to ‘resist any exploitation’.

She said: ‘We need to have more paid competitions that welcome both experienced and new practices. Any client that wants to procure a decent building already has the resources to pay architects for a professional competition.’

3XN’s Kim Nielsen, who won the competition to design the Museum of Liverpool, said: ‘Many architects are forced to get work through the lottery of competition. We have to fight for better conditions. In Sweden, you begin the competition with paid workshops – this starts a dialogue with the client and ensures you do not misunderstand the brief.’

Cany Ash of Ash Sakula Architects added: ‘We need fresh air in the system, not more usual suspects and lazy design.’

Will Alsop agreed with Viñoly’s remarks. He said: ‘[Competitions] have become a device for not taking decisions. At one time there were very few and life was better.

‘To make every one spend a fortune on entering something which is very open ended is criminal.’


  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Architects/ urban designers etc deserve to be paid for serious competition entries. I was involved in 2 - Luxembourg and Copenhagen which were paid for as one of a selected shortlist for real projects not "ideas". These can be successful and good for the image of the practice. The competitive interview process can be combined with some "design" work to demonstrate understanding or interrogation of the "brief". Ideas competitions such as the pylon one - will any of the entries ever make it to production? They are little more than PR and portfolio images.

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