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‘Exploitative’ Tottenham Pavilion contest revised after backlash by architects

Tottenham pavilion contest site (2)

A competition brief for a pavilion in Tottenham to be built as part of the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) has been redrawn after a backlash from several leading architects

The contest sought innovative proposals for a temporary pavilion on a 365m² former car park site in the Harringay Warehouse District, on the corner of Eade Road and Seven Sisters Road.

However, the organisers, local architect Joe Wright, artist Carolina Khouri, and James West of West Creative, faced criticism because of their failure to include a design fee for the winning team.

It prompted an open letter signed by 23 leading architects – including Katy Marks of Citizens Design Bureau and Rory Harmer of Tate Harmer – which criticised the ‘exploitative and cynical’ procurement process.

In response, the organisers promised to adopt new terms with immediate effect and admitted ‘naivety in the structure of the competition’, which they claimed was based on previous ‘warehouse-based projects where people collaborate voluntarily’. 

West said: ‘We have listened to the architectural community, reflected and made adjustments to the competition. Our aspiration has always been to seek positive outcomes – for those involved and for those who will benefit from the creation.’

We have listened to the architectural community, reflected and made adjustments to the competition

He added: ‘There has been national and international interest in the project. Our challenge now is to raise enough money to make it happen, find leading judges to get behind it and make it work in a manner that gives everyone involved acknowledgement and reward.’

Shortlisted teams will now each receive a £300 honorarium for their sketch submissions and all applicants will be invited to submit fee proposals for the £15,000-£30,000 structure. The organisers have also promised to only proceed with construction if enough funds are raised to pay the winning team’s fee in full.

The signatories – who also included Wilf Meynell of Studio Bark and Emma Perkin of Emil Eve Architects – suggested an estimated fee for the project, based on a £300 day-rate across 34 days, would be around £10,200 in total and asked the organisers to consider the ‘real-world implications’ of the competition and revise their terms.

Their letter said: ‘By running a competition with no design fee, you are supporting an exploitative and cynical process on two counts. First of all, you are undervaluing the importance of good-quality design within the built environment.

‘Secondly, you are removing social value from the outset. By not paying designers and makers for their time, you are actively excluding talented people from entering the competition and delivering your project: people who cannot afford to spend time working for free because they need to earn a living to live in London.’

The winning concept will be self-built by volunteers, opening as part of the London Festival of Architecture in June and remaining on site until the end of September. Funds for its delivery and for the payment of the winning team’s fee have yet to be secured.

In its brief, the organisers say they want the pavilion to ‘create a physical space predominately for use by the local community in Haringey, and neighbouring borough of Hackney, to house […] activities such as gatherings, markets, performances and workshops.’

Tottenham is currently the focus of several large-scale regeneration schemes, including Studio Egret West’s £1 billion High Road West redevelopment and Woodberry Down by Fletcher Priest Architects.

The Harringay Warehouse District is a large former industrial estate between Stamford Hill and Finsbury Park. Since the 1990s the area has been home to a large number of artists, musicians and creatives with many of its former warehouses and factories transformed into improvised live-work premises.

The winning scheme – to be selected by a community vote and jury – is planned to be constructed by a team of up to 60 volunteers during the London Festival of Architecture in June. Shortlisted designs will feature as part of the event and will also be exhibited online.

The registration deadline is 8 March and submissions must be completed by 29 March.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Clare Richards

    I commend Joe Wright, Carolina Khouri and James West for acknowledging their naivety and for responding to the criticism. This competition is rare and important in that it's been locally-proposed and will be built by local volunteers. So let's now support it. ft'work is a Patron of the London Festival of Architecture expressly to help bring design to a broader audience and to celebrate its contribution to creating socially sustainable communities. This year's theme of 'Power' is especially relevant and this project has the potential to 'empower' the burgeoning creative and social enterprises in a part of Haringey where a greater sense of identity is needed.

    An important question, though, what will happen to this structure after September? Shouldn't it be moved to another local site?

    If a future community role is assured, ft'work Trust will chip in £1000. Who will join us? Perhaps Studio Egret West, Fletcher Priest, Berkeley Homes and other practices and developers delivering major projects in the area...?

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  • All very laudable and morally correct but surely the simple fact that the winning authors could probably only receive a modest financial benefit for what will clearly be a big commitment on all levels just perpetuates the sense that the practice of architecture is increasingly the preserve of those who either have support from wealthy family/partners or those who don’t need money to survive

    The proliferation of temporary pavilions, structures and other mean time interventions whilst undoubtedly the generator of much worthiness amongst those who immediately benefit from the accompanying publicity is actually incredibly damaging to the relevance of a profession increasingly marginalised except when a bit of free creativity is required

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  • I don't think it would take seven weeks to design a pavilion

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