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UK shuns world’s largest housing design competition

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The UK has once again failed to offer up a single site for inclusion in the world’s largest housing design competition

Covering more than 20 countries in Europe, and officially launched on 2 March, the biennial Europan contest invites teams to design large-scale urban housing projects.

The UK last submitted sites for the contest in 2008, and a spokesman for the competition confirmed to the AJ that no sites had so far been entered for this year’s contest, despite a relaxation of entry criteria to include private developers.

Thomas Bender, lead adviser for design review at CABE, said: ‘It is disappointing to see there is no site in the UK suggested for this year’s Europan 13. The lack of a site makes it harder for UK-based teams to find a suitable site that is easy to reach.

‘It is really sad that there is no interest to showcase Britain and its challenges and opportunities to the wider design world and to invite young architects to come up with design solutions to tackle them.’

Traditionally sites have been offered by local authorities and other public bodies, but under the competition rules for Europan 13, partnerships with private developers may also offer sites.


Hugo Hardy, architect and former Europan entrant
‘There has been a closing down of innovation in housing design in the UK, apart from a few small pockets. There doesn’t seem to be an effort to borrow ideas from Europe in a serious way.Europan allows UK architects to see a different range of approaches – because you are competing against European ideas you research the philosophy and learn from them.

‘Having sites in this country would make it easier for UK firms to take part in the contest because of the language issue.

‘In the past in the UK, there has not been a serious intention by the site sponsors to carry out the winning plans. They just see it as a useful, free feasibility study.’

Crispin Kelly, director, Baylight Properties
‘Europan is a brand and the fact there is a lot of activity around it is good for promoting an exchange of ideas on housing design.

‘Competitions are good, and often lead to interesting results. It is a shame that no UK sites have been submitted – it is always good to get new ideas shared between practices. However, there was been a credibility issue in the UK even before we stopped submitting sites.’


Previous story (AJ 05.03.10)

Europan faces axe in UK as CABE withdraws backing

The demise of Europan in the UK looks increasingly likely following the news that CABE will not back next year’s contest

It is understood that the commission does not have the funding to run Europan 11 in the UK – due to launch this year – and no other sponsors have come forward to help manage the Europe-wide housing design competition aimed at young and emerging practices.

Despite success on the continent, the UK has failed to deliver a single Europan project over a notoriously unproductive 16-year-long ‘flirtation’ with the biennial competition.

During CABE’s six-year involvement, only Witherford Watson Mann has managed to achieve outline planning permission for its Stonebridge estate scheme, and the commission withdrew the UK from Europan 10 in 2008 due to a lack of suitable sites.

‘It does seem that the UK is shooting itself in the foot by not having talented young architects focus on sites in this country,’ said Phil Catcheside of Europan 8 victor Loop Architecture [collaborating with Harry Dobbs Design], who is urging the RIBA to step in to fill CABE’s shoes.

‘I wonder if the RIBA could be tempted again and show some commitment to younger, smaller practices who find it difficult to get onto shortlists without the benefit of open competitions like Europan.  Failing the institute I wonder whether any other organisation at all is willing to pick it up.

Tim Riley of Europan 9 winner RCKa (Stoke site - pictured) said: ‘With this disappointing news, is it not time that we had a wider debate about nurturing young design talent in the UK?’

‘Europan on the continent is highly thematic which does not appear to sit well with the UK’s more site specific and practical approach to the competition. With this in mind should [the commission] run their own competition better suited to the needs of UK site sponsors, developers and young architects?’

A spokesperson for CABE said: ‘We still believe that design competitions are excellent for achieving innovation and quality in housing [and we] are continuing to provide enabling support for the winners of Europan 8 and Europan 9 – although these schemes have, inevitably, slowed down along with the rest of the housing market.’

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