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Labour calls for more competitions and a UK-wide festival of architecture

  • 2 Comments

The UK should hold more design competitions and establish a new annual architecture festival outside London, Labour’s shadow culture minister has said

The UK should hold more design competitions and establish a new annual architecture festival outside London, Labour’s shadow culture minister has said.

Speaking on Monday evening at this week’s Labour Party conference in Manchester during a discussion of the Farrell Review of architecture, Helen Goodman MP said making competitions more commonplace would raise design quality.

‘Closing down competitions in 1970s was really unfortunate,’ she said.  ‘We need to go back to opening up the design of buildings to more and different people. Competitions can make design a central feature of deciding who wins the contract.’

Goodman also backed the Farrell Review’s calls for a major international architecture festival, but added that she had asked Farrell himself to consider whether it should be held in the capital. She said: ‘It’s a really good idea to have an annual festival of architecture and when we met, I said “why should it be in London?” ’

Architects welcomed her comments but the RIBA called on Labour to go further by drawing up a detailed new architecture policy. Anna Scott Marshall, RIBA’s head of external affairs, said: ‘Really we were hoping she might commit a future Labour government to more.

‘We’d like to see a greater cross-government focus on architecture through an architecture policy which focuses on the core objectives for government – the economy, delivering the homes we need, infrastructure, shaping successful cities and communities.’

However, former RIBA president Angela Brady said Goodman was right about competitions. She said: ‘We need better procurement and more paid competitions as [they have] in Germany and northern Europe.’

Earlier at the conference, Labour party leader Ed Miliband pledged to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020 and announced plans to set up a raft of New Homes Corporations to speed up the process, a proposal which received a wary reaction from the profession. Farrells partner Max Farrell said: ‘For us it’s not just about homes. We have to talk about places and creating communities.  There needs to be more collaborative spatial planning with communities. It should not just be about the numbers.’

And Martyn Evans, design director at developer Cathedral, said: ‘If we just build large blocks, we miss the opportunity to provide real spaces and communities. In the rush to provide numbers of units we cannot forget this is really about creating places for people to live.’

Further comments

Charles Knevitt, former director of the RIBA Trust (2004-2011)

‘Since the Arts Council’s unilateral decision to pull out of Architecture Week, regions have lost the impetus to create their own events.

‘The phenomenal success of the London Festival of Architecture could be replicated elsewhere in the UK, and overseas. Open House and Open Cities have been a triumph, for example.

‘But it would require visionary leadership, commitment from both public and private sectors and seed-corn funding (from DCMS) to make it happen.

‘Latest DCMS statistics show that the Cultural and Creative Industries are worth £36billion to the UK economy, generating £70,000 a minute. They employ 1.5 million people and account for £1 in every £10 of the UK’s exports. We should capitalise on this.

‘Celebrating architecture and the built environment, including place-making, should be seen in this context, and we should be leading the globe.

Next month (23 October) Berlin will be hosting a major conference on the issues, backed by the German Federal Government and China.

‘If the UK does not take the lead, others will be only too happy to do so.’

Dan Kerr, director, Mawson Kerr

‘I agree there should be more design competitions both nationally and regionally. The increase in competitions would mean practices can focus on projects that are more relevant to themselves and it would mean there would be a more realistic number of entrants per competition.

‘A festival moving around the country focusing on regional areas would always be something I would support, however if we are to draw attention globally London certainly has the pull that would achieve this.’

Angela Brady, RIBA past-president

‘I agree we need better procurement and more paid competitions as in Germany and northern Europe, but we must not be too inward looking when it comes to Festivals.

‘London is a global city and needs to reach beyond UK which will in turn supports the expertise we have here and also will bring inward investment.

‘Our industry goes to world festivals and the Venice Biannale, why not invite the world to the UK and spread the events around the UK so its not too London centric? We have great projects to be proud of.’

Max Farrell, Farrells

‘Competitions are a good thing. They widen the opportunities to more architectural practices. But we need to increase the weighting for design in procurement. Competitions need to be design-led.

‘We are already talking about looking at how we can have an architecture festival spread throughout the country. There are lots of things already happening but these could all be done in a more joined up way.

‘The city should become the venue. It should be a celebration of urbanism – not just about London but about cities across the UK.’

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • John Kellett

    Oh, how lovely, more 'competitions'. I do so love working for free when I have a mortgage to pay and family to feed. There is no money to venture, therefore there can be no gain. Does the Labour Party have any grip at all on reality?

    Most architects earn less than most professionals. Including those professionals paid by the state, who are, apparently, all underpaid!

    Hours on PQQs when they should take minutes, designing 'competition' entries to Stage 3 and beyond without costs, etc.

    The RIBA may be a charity but few architect's practices are.

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  • Well managed design contests when compared to eg one of the most common forms of public procurement which is the 2 stage restricted procedure followed by mini-competitions for framework call offs, are cheaper, for both architects and clients.
    What is not acceptable and I would agree - is Design Contests such as the recent Guggenheim with 1,715 entrants. Architects need to support adoption of the sortition system to address this which reduces needless work and is entirely equitable.
    More design contests provide more opportunities. Lets embrace the north european model delivering higher quality construction.
    One reasons design contests have become so tarnished in the UK is that they now comprise less than 1% of the public procurement market, and each one then attracts such enormous numbers. This is a catch 22 which needs to be broken. Everyone otherwise remains subscribing to competitions where selection is preceded by PQQs and is done on the basis of your bank balance, previous experience, ISO compliance, H&S docs., etc.
    I know what I think is better value and provides greater oppooirtunity.
    Read the RIBAs publication Building Ladders of Opportunity.
    Great news from Labour - for build quality, economics in construction and society, a very welcome announcement.

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