The Matthews / Ney design is undoubtedly seductive but should be deliverable without undermining those qualities which won the competition. Generally, it is important that competition designs (which are generally arrived at in a short time and for a very small fee) are not treated as the finished product, rather they are beautifully presented concepts which must be carefully and properly developed, as with any project. Critical in their selection is a jury with the technical as well as artistic sensitivity to know which concepts are credible and deliverable as well as which best answers the brief. For example, the minor addition of a pin connection in this design would keep the important acknowledgement of the middle point of the span yet would prevent differential vertical movement.
There are physical aspects of this site which are quintessential – the current approach to Tintagel Castle is steep, high, exposed and difficult to access – yet to try and remove these would ruin the place so, in my view, the competition-winning design retains the overall drama but makes it much more accessible. The benefit of the competition process was that six designers were selected to tackle this challenge and their differing designs gave a highly competent jury the material from which to select the best design.
Congratulations to Cornwall County Council for awarding planning permission to a beautiful, competition-winning design. The Tintagel site is undoubtedly special and sensitive but so is this bridge, and the designers have the opportunity to reinforce the dramatic qualities of the location while providing much improved access for all. The practicalities of materials, structural design and construction should be very much within the skills of this winning architect and engineer team and it is reassuring to see them taking the project forwards.
Regrettably this is still a rarity in the UK for bridge design, with far too many competitions awarded to designs which turn out to be unbuildable or undeliverable, for a range of reasons. Whether the fault lies with the designer, the promoter or the jury, it remains the architectural profession which bears the primary burden of such wasteful procurement and improvement in the quality of bridge design competitions is frustratingly slow in coming.
Comment on: Knight Architects’ Mersey Gateway Bridge opens
Robert, the new bridge spans the Mersey Estuary however it is actually the Manchester Ship Canal, immediately to the south of the river, which is the navigational clearance and the high point of the crossing. The two outer towers are the same height above deck level but, as the bridge deck climbs gently from north to south, the southern tower is taller. I hope this helps clear up any ambiguity.
Andy, like all major infrastructure projects, the end product is a huge team effort - the client technical advisor role undertaken by Ramboll and CH2M (both engineering consultants) with Knight Architects and the contractor's designer role led by COWI with FHECOR, Eptisa and AECOM (all engineering consultants) and Dissing & Weitling Architects. The superb architectural lighting was designed by Speirs & Major.
If the AJ’s pages are an indicator, the number of design competitions appears to be on the rise and this should be a good thing, as well-run competitions offer valuable choice to clients and bring opportunities to designers. But quantity without quality is not enough and Malcolm Reading’s incisive comments on the avoidable shortcomings of another competition are depressingly familiar.
A positive client-architect relationship is critical in fulfilling the potential of any project and the need to establish trust and mutual respect between the parties is just as important for a design competition as it is for a direct appointment. This begins with the PQQ and briefing criteria, where entrants decide to commit what can end up being a significant time and resource, and should encompass all the entrants, not just the last one standing. The defence that a process is “compliant with OJEU rules” does not mean that it is good or fair or is not exploitative.
A successful competition can transform good design into truly great design, but only when the aims and aspirations of client and architect are well communicated, clearly understood and mutually aligned. This is well known to experienced providers such as Malcolm Reading and RIBA Competitions and it is time that other promoters, particularly in the public sector, embraced a positive spirit for competitions rather than hiding behind the letter of the law.
Martin Knight FRIBA
As an unsuccessful entrant, it is difficult to comment on a competition without it sounding like sour grapes but Reinier de Graaf’s commentary is fair, timely and accurate. Too often competitions are used ‘politically’ in lieu of genuine consultation or even proper communication about a need. Once again it is heart-breaking to see so much time, cost and creative energy freely invested with such incredibly long odds of success. If Westminster calls time on the idea of a bridge to Pimlico, will the competitors be reimbursed their £4m?
Regrettably, this competition appears wasteful and confusing and it is the architectural profession which carries the heaviest financial burden, with most engineers sensibly leaving the architects to lead the way with a peacock image intended to catch the eye of the jury, or the press or maybe the public: who actually was judging? This was a competition whose prequalification threshold was so low that 87 teams made the first cut, effectively an open contest, with the claim that this opens the door for small, young and newly-established practices. Yet the four selected are established, distinguished even venerable practices – all excellent architects but with not a youngster among them. And was it really a selection of teams, as claimed, or designs? If so, why put so much media emphasis on “a design” yet fail to select so many practices with considerably more bridge design experience (Ney & Partners, Wilkinson Eyre, Dietmar Feichtinger, McDowell + Benedetti among others…)?
Good competitions offer valuable choices to clients and opportunities to architects, whether to younger or smaller practices or established firms. They encourage research and innovation, promote public debate and emphasise the value of good design however, where the brief isn’t clear and where the costs of wasted resources are so high, they are rightly seen as a dead weight on the profession. For the sake of those left in the contest and for those of us who believe in the social importance of public infrastructure, let’s hope the politics catch up with the designs.