Architecture in Wales was in the spotlight again for all the wrong reasons this week after the Richard Rogers Partnership was sensationally sacked from the job to build the controversial new Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff.As the AJ was going to press, the Assembly passed a motion to delay the scheme further by going to the market and using the RRP designs but getting a developer to finish the job to achieve 'value for money'.
Minister for Finance, Local Government and Communities Edwina Hart told the Welsh Assembly that she 'very much regretted' that, despite 'assurances' by RRP and Turner and Townsend, it would not be possible to bring the building in under the construction budget of £13.8 million or overall budget of £26.6 million. It would be nearer £24 million and £40 million respectively. She said she had decided to sack RRP because she believed that Rogers accused her representatives of disguising costs, but had not come up with any evidence.
'We believe it is better to take remedial steps now than be faced with an uncertain and potentially very costly future, ' she said.'
The news follows Rogers' 'unfortunate' leaked attacks on the procurement method used for the new building and his criticisms that RRP was being blamed for the cost consequences of client decisions. 'This is unacceptable, ' he wrote to Hart, but she insisted this week that only £1.2 million of cost rise was down to the Assembly as client.
New president of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales Skip Belton told the AJ: 'We are incredibly concerned that this important building for Wales is completed, ' adding that he was anxious over the impact this will have on Wales' reputation for turning down world class architecture. High quality architecture in the principality last took a big knock when Zaha Hadid's famous opera house for Cardiff fell through in 1996. 'We have a strong feeling that the building as originally designed should be constructed.'
RIBA president Paul Hyett was also understood to have been asked to intervene in the matter.
CABE chief executive Jon Rouse also expressed his concern. 'There's been a vacuum in Wales since the RFAC was abolished, he said, blaming the lack of an 'interlocutor' between the parties for its downfall. 'It's very important a design commission is set up in Wales as soon as possible.'
The Assembly agreed by 42 votes to nine to press ahead with the Rogers designs and construct the Chamber building on the same site. 'This was the Assembly's resolution in June 2000 and it is still possible to deliver a building in accordance with the Assembly's wishes.'
Hart added, as part of the carried motion: 'We are proposing to proceed with RRP's design and build it in a way which keeps costs to a minimum and gives as much certainty as possible. I believe this would be best achieved by appointing a developer to complete the design and construct the building either for an agreed lump sum or on the basis of a lease agreement.'