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Singing the praises of the unseen architect

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Letters

Will Alsop has missed the point (AJ 5.7.01). It is perfectly reasonable for an architect to produce a feasibility study in advance of an OJEC notice. The big issue is that so many complete it on a reduced or pro bono fee. Feasibility work gives the client intellectual capital, skills and experience. Only fools would give this away - and only the mendacious would ask for charity.

The skills required to produce a complex feasibility study are different to those required to execute the scheme, so it makes sense for the two appointments to be different. The feasibility architect would have detailed knowledge that would be unfair in any subsequent competition. The publicsector client may wish to appoint the feasibility architect as an adviser during the project.

With regard to the selection of designers, one man's brilliance is another man's high-risk project.

Juries that include lay members are more credible when decisions are open to scrutiny. We do not want to hear accusations of 'architects choosing architects' with connotations of a closed shop. CABE needs to tread carefully in this respect. If your project is about to be audited by the NAO, and you could be giving evidence to a select committee, are you going for the deconstructivist option? I think not - your predictable deconstruction at their hands will be painful.

When a public-sector client describes his architect as 'highly inflexible, adversarial and divisive' and 'bedevilled by their representatives', the process is clearly producing mismatches between clients and designers.

Alsop's comment that competitions help the mediocre at the expense of the most talented is wrong. Competitions produced the House of Commons, Centre Georges Pompidou and, dare I say, the Cardiff Opera House and the Welsh Assembly. Alsop is to sit on the design jury for the new NATO HQ in Brussels. Shall I continue ?

The problem is that competitions produce superficial responses. OK, Parliament and Georges Pompidou got lucky - but only after major redesigns. A client who chooses an architect on the basis of superficial concepts and whizzy shapes is doomed to fail and deserves to be dissected by the powers that be.

I agree with Alsop that public attention is grabbed by new and exciting projects - bread and circuses and Jeffrey Archer also have universal appeal. However, the public is equally quick to turn on failure with vicious Schadenfreude. The public sector deserves best design. Best design contains best value, works brilliantly, is visually exciting, and is future proof. Best architects design to budget, manage risks, listen to their clients, manage their expectations, and produce projects that make their clients heroes, not themselves. The best architects are unseen. . . in architecture as in life, pay attention to the quietest.

Peter L Ullathorne, vicepresident Gensler, London

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