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RIAS: client interest is key to competitions

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Your recent nterview with Richard Murphy and Charlie Sutherland ('Anger as Scots projects shun home-grown talent', AJ 16.9.04) gave a very distorted view of what is happening north of the border. The RIAS is not privy to, nor was it involved in selecting, the list of the 13 most prestigious projects commissioned in Scotland since devolution, but we must take issue with Murphy and Sutherland's wild assertions.

The RIAS has not let the competitions department wither, as Murphy suggests - it is client interest in competitions that has withered. Without clients who are willing to use, and pay for, this method of selection, it would be irresponsible of the RIAS to maintain a dedicated design competitions department with only intermittent 'true' design competitions to run. The RIAS is active in addressing this issue by drafting new guidance for design competitions, and commissioning independent consultants to prepare a strategy for generating a greater awareness of, and interest in, their benefits.

Sutherland accuses the RIAS of 'giving emphasis to office size, rather than design ability'. RIAS Consultancy, which manages quality-based design team selection processes for clients on behalf of the RIAS, has never put an emphasis on office size, and questions related to design ability at written and interview stages of selection always carry a significantly greater weighting than those related to office size.

He then takes a second swipe at the RIAS by declaring that we have a 'highly restrictive and prohibitive pro-forma system that in no way encourages and promotes good architecture'.

Our clients would disagree, as would, I suspect, the architects who have been successful through this process. Perhaps Sutherland does not rate the work of the likes of Nicoll Russell Studios, Edward Cullinan, Page and Park, Reiach and Hall, RMJM, Bennetts Associates or Benson & Forsyth, to mention some recent competition winners (oh, and I almost forgot Sutherland Hussey).

As far as the OJEC is concerned, thank goodness we have a 'rigid system' - particularly in the light of recent news that the processes for the selection of the architect and the contractor for the Scottish Parliament may be the subject of legal challenge. Whether we like it or not, the OJEC procedure must have an audit trail that demonstrates a fair and transparent process.

We go as far as we can, and further than most, in applying flexibility at the presentation/ interview stage of selection processes by rejecting any form of scoring system hat would distort subjective judgments. In the case of projects that are not required to be advertised in the European Journal, we can be, and we are, much more flexible in our approach.

In all of this, we are constantly trying to balance the interests of architects and clients and to avoid the exploitation of the former by the latter. All clients, in my experience, would gladly use the design competition route - but without paying for it. Would Murphy and Sutherland be happy for us to encourage more of this form of exploitation?

Brian Moore, director, RIAS Consultancy, Edinburgh EH1

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