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Oxford Street Christmas lights ‘copied’ from shortlisted RIBA competition design


The backer of an RIBA competition to redesign Oxford Street’s celebrated Christmas lights has been accused of copying one of the shortlisted designs for the 2019 display

In 2017, the RIBA launched a contest on behalf of New West End Company, a not-for-profit organisation formed of 600 West End businesses, which is responsible for Christmas lights on Oxford Street.

The competition challenged designs teams ‘to deliver the most incredible Christmas illuminations ever seen world-wide’ and create a scheme with ‘a reveal moment  … that is memorable and talked about worldwide’.

Four entrants were shortlisted, including teams with 3DReid and Harry Dobbs Design, but a winner was never formally announced and none were used for the 2018 Christmas lights.

Now the managing director of lighting design specialist StudioFractal has accused New West End Company of ripping off aspects of its design.

Like other entrants, the team formed of StudioFractal, Barton Engineering and 3DReid pitched a detailed brief of the technical and conceptual aspects of their design to New West End Company as part of the competition.

‘Our entry – an 8m-high ribbon of LEDs undulating down Oxford Street and displaying a bespoke lighting animation featuring the Northern Lights and cascades of snowflakes – didn’t win,’ said StudioFractal’s Tim Downey.

‘A competition winner was not announced – in fact, other than being asked not to publicise anything about our involvement, we didn’t hear anything further. Strange.’

‘What an amazing coincidence that this year’s Oxford Street lights are … a series of LED mesh screens displaying what looks like a simplified Northern Lights and snowflakes,’ Downey remarked.

‘Anyone with an enquiring mind would be very interested to understand how the organisation behind the event could ask the RIBA to organise and run a high-profile competition attracting entries from around the world – and then not announce a winner and apparently copy one of the entries for their own discount installation.’

In response to Downey’s claims, New West End Company said that the 2019 Oxford Street lights had been designed in-house but declined to comment on whether they used aspects of 3DReid and Studio Fractal’s design.

Asked whether it was concerned about clients using RIBA competitions to receive detailed conceptual and technical briefs on designs and for aspects of these concepts to be used without ever employing a competition entrant, the RIBA declined to comment.

It said: ‘The RIBA’s involvement was limited to the competition, which was concluded in January 2018.’

Meanwhile, the AJ has managed to uncover the never-disclosed winning entry: KaleidoSCAPE by Gia Equation with Peter Fink Studio, Harry Dobbs Design and Eckersley O’Callaghan.

In a joint statement, the winning team said they were disappointed the winner was never formally announced, despite them having spent a significant amount of time applying and beating more than 40 other entrants.

‘Unfortunately, our scheme was never realised. Despite this, it would, of course, remain a strong preference within the team that the RIBA competition results be formally announced,’ the Gia-led team said.

‘We feel [our entry] deserves the recognition and awareness typically associated with winning an RIBA international open design competition’.

Judges for the competition included WilkinsonEyre co-founder Chris Wilkinson, Jill Entwhistle, then-editor of Light Magazine, Justine Simons, deputy mayor for culture, and Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company.

New West End Company said the winning design was dropped because was ‘strongly linked with the [heavily delayed] opening of the Elizabeth Line in December 2018 and required Oxford Street to be predominantly traffic-free’.

However, it declined to comment on why the winner of the competition was never formally announced.

RIBA said it ‘supported discussions between the client and the team regarding the nature and timing of a formal announcement which unfortunately had not reached a conclusion’.


Readers' comments (6)

  • "....being asked not to publicise anything about our involvement...'

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    I take the view that promoters of competitions should undertake to pay all entrance a full commercial hourly rate for their time if they fail to implement the winning scheme. In practice this is likely to deter competition promoters, especially governments who rarely build the winning scheme, But this would be the equitable process. Not something I was able to implement when many years ago as vice president of marketing at the RIBA I had responsibility for competitions!

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  • Industry Professional

    RIBA Competitions seems to be consistently letting clients and designers down. There needs to be a serious review of how competitions are run and what baseline standards must be achieved for the RIBA to associate its name with a competition. Transparency, fairness and feasibility are of paramount importance.

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  • I don't know why anyone enters competitions that involve giving away their primary skill - design - with no guarantee of recompense for anyone, let alone the winner. I've only ever entered two - both RIBA run. One was shortlisted (£50k worth of time, no prize) and the other was won: (£75k worth of time, £3k prize). Neither was built. A profession with so little pride and guardianship of the value of its skills only deserves the dismissive contempt it receives from those who exploit it. As does the RIBA for washing its hands of the consequencies - the classic managerialist response from an instute out of touch with its Members' interests. Outrageous, and sadly predictable.

    To paraphrase Samuel Johnson; "To enter one competition is understandable. To enter two is a triumph of hope over experience".

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  • This is the problem with competitions. The RIBA should not be promoting them, as they undermine the value of the profession and result in slave labour. The profession should show some solidarity and boycott them, but greed will prevail, as 'It could be you!'. Buy a lottery ticket or scratch card instead!

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  • We are a top 25 practice- we never do competitions. We see no point.

    If the NWE have copied the design- that’s illegal and they can be sued. Looking at the images- I’m not sure it’s as clear cut as the article suggests ...

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