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Councillors back third-placed Mecanoo for £20m Perth City Hall

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Perth and Kinross Council has approved the appointment of Mecanoo for a £20 million overhaul of Perth’s Category B-listed City Hall – even though judges did not give the firm the highest score 

The local authority voted on a report recommending the appointment of the Dutch practice to the ambitious project last night, after it was named the ‘recommended architect’ in the contest.

Yet documents posted on the authority’s website show that Mecanoo had initially come third in the competition, based on the combined scores for quality of design and proposed fee.

Eariler this week, the organiser of the original competition, the RIAS, hit out at Perth and Kinross Council’s plans to ignore the rankings, saying it agreed with the unsuccessful practices, which had ‘expressed their disappointment at the council’s variance from the procedure set out in the bid documents’.

However, yesterday the authority backed its council officers’ recommendations to opt for Mecanoo instead of the contest’s highest point-scorer.

Officers felt Mecanoo’s low marks on fees had disproportionally weighed against the firm and that the practice was the only finalist deemed able to deliver their scheme without ’significant and material change’, within the estimated construction budget of £11 million (see report extract below).

The firm had been shortlisted for the headline-grabbing job against four other teams: Austin-Smith:Lord with MVRDV; Hoskins Architects; LDN; and Richard Murphy Architects. All five finalist concepts were evaluated on how well they met visitor needs, delivered ‘world-class’ museum requirements, were affordable and were sensitive towards the wider historic area surrounding the building.

Responding to the appointment of Mecanoo, Richard Murphy of Richard Murphy Architects said: ‘It’s a very peculiar situation. Competitions should be about design. I don’t agree with competitions which have parallel competitions about fees as well. That produces a lot of peculiar results. They are also not necessary by European law.’

He added: ‘In the case of Perth, it seems to be a competition for who has produced the cheapest scheme, which was not on the original agenda. It kind of leaves a bit of a nasty taste in your mouth.’

More than 800 comments were received during a public exhibition of the designs. According to a council statement, public responses favoured Austin-Smith:Lord/MVRDV and Mecanoo, with Mecanoo receiving the greatest number of positive remarks from local people and businesses.

Francine Houben, founding architect and creative director of Mecanoo, said: ’We look forward to working together with the local community and Perth and Kinross Council to create an exciting new cultural destination for Perth.’

Deputy chief executive Jim Valentine commented: ‘All five shortlisted firms are of the highest calibre, which is testimony to the importance of the City Hall project not just to Perth and Kinross, but in Scotland’s wider cultural landscape.

‘It was a very tough decision for the selection panel, but Mecanoo stood out as having responded sensitively to the brief, conserving much of the historic building with an innovative and flexible design that will stand the test of time.

Mecanoo stood out as having responded sensitively to the brief

‘The panel felt that Mecanoo paid particular attention to the needs of a wide range of visitors and the transformation of the area surrounding city hall into a vibrant, inclusive civic space of which we can be truly proud.’

The Delft-based practice will transform the abandoned 1914 landmark into a visual arts centre hosting local collections, touring exhibitions and, potentially, the historic Stone of Destiny.

The project for Perth and Kinross Council is planned to start on site in 2019, ending decades of uncertainty over the Renaissance-style building, which was formerly earmarked for demolition to make way for a new civic plaza, and complete in 2021.

The city-centre landmark was designed by Glasgow-based HE Clifford and Lunan. For more than 20 years it has been subject to various demolition proposals. The building was formerly used as a performance venue, but closed in 2005 after BDP completed its competition-winning Perth Concert Hall nearby.

After Historic Scotland vetoed demolition in 2012, attempts to transform the building into an indoor market hall also hit the buffers, and last year Perth and Kinross Council announced plans for a new visual arts centre as part of the historic city’s failed bid to become UK City of Culture 2021.

Nearby landmarks within the pedestrianised area which surrounds the city hall include the Category A-listed St John’s Kirk, which was built in stages c1440-1500 on the site of an earlier 12th-Century church.

The latest contest, which was supported by the RIAS and received more than 70 expressions of interest, comes shortly after Hoskins Architects won a separate competition for a £10 million regeneration of the Perth Museum and Art Gallery nearby. Once complete, the two buildings will both host exhibitions exploring the history of Perth.

The city hall restoration project will deliver a new 1,500m² exhibition space for permanent and touring exhibitions alongside a 150m² learning suite, 250m² collections handling area and up to 275m² of commercial visitor facilities, including a café and retail space.

It is understood that the historic Stone of Destiny could also feature inside the new venue. The stone was last used at Elizabeth II’s coronation and was relocated from Westminster Abbey to Edinburgh Castle in 1996. It could form the focus for a new visitor attraction in Perth.

Architect’s view 

Mecanoo envisions the project as means to create a new gateway to Perth; to its history and its pride. The scheme proposal seeks to re-activate Perth City Hall by a number of ‘light touch’ interventions that embrace the building’s beauty and character, whilst improving accessibility and reinforcing existing connections.

By increasing transparency on all elevations and providing levelled access, people are encouraged to come inside. The public ‘internal vennel’ allows the public to walk through the building with the possibility entering the exhibition spaces and café. Inside the characteristic main hall, an inserted volume offers optimal flexibility to exhibit Perth & Kinross Council’s permanent and temporary collections. The renewed public realm between the city hall and St John’s Kirk will feature a comfortable seating area. A new lighting scheme threads the design for the building and public realm together.

Report extract:

Detailed evaluation of the shortlisted entries was carried out by a panel of senior officers from Perth and Kinross Council, Culture Perth and Kinross and HubCo. RIAS provided independent advice to the panel on the evaluation and scoring process, and also provided an independent architect as part of the panel.

Independent cost plans for each design were prepared by HubCo. A Pre Planning Enquiry (PPE) was submitted to Perth and Kinross Council as the planning authority, who in turn consulted with Historic Environment Scotland as a statutory consultee on the listed aspects of the building and its relationship to the wider historic public realm.

Concept designs were sought from the 5 practices to allow each of them to demonstrate their understanding of the project brief. All practices demonstrated different approaches to the brief that were considered by the evaluation panel. The concepts were independently costed by HubCo.

Technical workshops were held with the 5 practices in mid May 2017, before they submitted their final concepts on 31 May. These workshops allowed each practice to get some feedback on their initial ideas, the brief and to clarify any factual points. The main construction contractor was involved in the workshops to provide information on the ‘buildability’ of each design.

Scoring criteria to assess the shortlisted entries against the brief were developed by RIAS and agreed with Council officers. These were weighted:
• 80 per cent of the scoring criteria attributable to architectural quality
• 20 per cent to the fee price

This ratio of quality to price is relatively high and was agreed to reflect the importance of the design concept to the council.

The five shortlisted practices were scored on the basis of their design concepts and supporting information, their performance at formal interview and their fee proposals.

The table below summarises the quality scores and fee scores from the evaluation process. It also includes the estimated construction costs as independently assessed by HubCo

PracticeQuality scoreFee scoreQuality/fee scoreEstimated construction costRanking
Practice A 66.5 20 86.5 £14.7m 1
Practice B 68.7 17 85.7 £16.9m 2
Practice C 80 4.6 84.6 £11.4m 3
Practice D 65.1 16.8 81.9 £14.6m 4
Practice E 62.7 16.1 78.8 £16.5m 5

The evaluation panel scored quality based on the proposals received from each practice. The fee price scoring was undertaken by RIAS.

As shown in Table 1, Practice A were ranked highest on the basis of quality and fee scoring.

The application of fee scoring has diluted the quality weighting. This was not what was anticipated or intended in this procurement process.

A key element of project delivery is the estimated construction cost. The estimated cost of £11 million was included in the project brief which was issued to all participating bidders. Following the independent costing exercise, which was undertaken in consultation with each bidder, it became evident that only one practice presented a design concept which was deemed to be deliverable without making significant and material change, this practice was Mecanoo (Practice C in the table above).

The fee bid submitted by Mecanoo included the highest percentage fee. This is reflected in the low fee score allocated through the RIAS scoring methodology shown in Table 1 above.

Although this was the highest fee bid received, this proposal has the lowest estimated construction cost. When the fee percentage proposed is applied to the proposed build cost (including costs associated with site set up) the difference between Mecanoo and the next bidder narrows to £25,000.

It is the view of officers that the higher fee is not excessive for a complex construction project of this type and is appropriate given the high quality score which this practice received. Most importantly, their design concept is the only one which, on the basis of the estimated construction cost, can be delivered for the available project budget.

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