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HS2 looking to employ smaller practices


Railway’s head of architecture tells AJ120 lunch event in Glasgow that design is a key priority for the £40billion infrastructure project

HS2 wants to employ small and medium sized practices from all over the country and will use the OJEU procurement system as its existing framework agreements come to an end, it has emerged.

Speaking at the AJ120 lunch in Glasgow last Friday, Laura Kidd, the £40billion rail link’s head of architecture, also said she wanted station designs centred on the needs of the public rather than on grand gestures.

She told the audience, which was largely made up of architects: ‘All our work will be OJEU so you need to keep an eye on OJEU notices because our frameworks are coming to an end.

‘For some of them, we are looking specifically for SMEs rather than large practices and there is all sorts of specialist work that needs to be done. And it’s not a London-centric approach to how we work and who we work with.’

Reiterating comments made by HS2 chairman David Higgins to the AJ in July, Kidd said HS2 wants to promote construction innovation and factory-produced design and added that a standardised approach would be used for much of the route from London to Birmingham.

She said: ‘What we’ve got to define is what’s going to be special, what needs that more contextual approach. This is to do with the significance of the place like the Colne Valley Viaduct [Buckinghamshire]. Other parts of the route will be done with a more standardised design approach.’

Referring to overhead line pylons designs by the likes of Moxon Architects and Danish architect Bystrup, Kidd said: ‘In certain places we may be able to justify this kind of approach’.

Following his interview with the AJ, Higgins was criticised over the summer for his ‘depressing’ view of design but Kidd insisted that HS2 had made quality a major priority and had learned lessons from earlier infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and the London 2012 Olympics.

‘We have a set of key principles which can’t be delivered without excellent design,’ she said.

Kidd also showed images of Santiago Calatrava’s 2009 Liège-Guillemins railway station in Belgium and complained that for all its dramatic architecture, it lacked sufficient amenities such as seating.

‘People have to come first so don’t show me these wonderful designs where people aren’t considered’ she said.

She also said that HS2 remains keen to extend the route of HS2 in later phases to Leeds and Manchester and then on to Glasgow and Edinburgh.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Laura Kidd would do well to quietly suffocate the gape-mouthed wiggly-tailed monster proposed as the Birmingham HS2 station. Britain's second city does not deserve to be scarred with yet another piece of passing fashion from the the latest modernist darling. This grand old city needs a station that looks more like Grand Central in New York than a rip-off of Grimshaw's now redundant Waterloo Eurostar extension.

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  • Although admirable, an intention to use "SMEs" is pretty meaningless when it comes to architects, as this definition includes something like 97% of practices - a fact that is misunderstood by many outside the profession.
    A commitment to employ smaller practices should really mean a commitment to selection criteria that favours quality over size. This is achieved through a more intelligent use of procurement rather than a vague desire to promote smaller practices (which usually means big practices by any reasonable definition); reducing barriers to entry and providing a level playing field so that architects are chosen according to their talent rather than their turnover.

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  • Angela Brady

    Well said Russell The smaller practices have a lot of skills and add value

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  • Major infrastructure lasts generations, serves huge numbers of people and deserves to be robust, sustainable and built efficiently to the highest design quality. To achieve this also requires it should be well briefed and competitive access given to the widest possible market on a level playing field to elicit the best creative and appropriate responses. The aspirations towards standardisation maybe appropriate but are communicated in this article in such a way as to infer that this standardisation is in effect a dumbing down.
    Does this large and highly visible commissioning have any real design vision or aspirations?
    Keeping an eye out for OJEU notices as a way towards alignment with the Gov. policy on pre-market engagement for a project of the scale of HS2 seems remiss. Network Rail was a signatory to the Govs Procurement Pledge of Dec. 2010 which set out early measures intended to represent a long-term reform of public procurement that would help to ensure a level playing field and improve access to public procurement for potential providers of all types and sizes. Is HS2 not covered by this pledge?
    While this announcement represents a shift in HS2s procurement position bringing it closer towards this pledge, it seems there is a considerable distance still to travel.

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