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RIAS slates Perth Council over third-placed Mecanoo’s City Hall ‘win’

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The RIAS has hit out at Perth and Kinross Council’s plans to appoint Mecanoo for the £20 million overhaul of Perth City Hall, despite the practice coming third in the competition

The incorporation, which organised the competition, said it could only concur with unsuccessful practices that ’expressed their disappointment at the council’s variance from the procedure set out in the bid documents’.

Perth and Kinross Council will vote on a report recommending the appointment of the Dutch practice to the ambitious project this evening (16 August), even though the firm was only initially ranked third based on the contest’s point scores (see below).

The RIAS said last night that it had taken an ‘unusual step’ in publishing its correspondence with the council. 

In a letter to council leader Ian Campbell, RIAS president Stewart Henderson said the organisation agreed with shortlisted practices disappointed by the competition outcome.

He said: ‘We understand from council papers for this Wednesday’s meeting that the officers of the council are proposing to recommend Mecanoo to take forward the Perth City Hall project.

‘You will appreciate this is contrary to the RIAS report following the recent quality/prize driven process for which we were appointed.

‘Unsuccessful practices have expressed their disappointment at the variance from the procedure set out in the bid documents. We can only concur.’

Documents posted on the authority’s website show that Mecanoo initially came third in the competition, based on the combined scores for quality of design and proposed fee. The practice did, however, comfortably top the shortlist based on design alone.

Council officers felt the low marks on fees had disproportionally weighed against the firm, and that Mecanoo 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 job along with 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.

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.

The council’s 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.

‘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.’

Councillor Ian Campbell, leader of the council, added: ‘This is an important milestone in transforming Perth’s key landmarks and, along with our other major cultural projects, such as Perth Theatre and Perth Museum and Art Gallery, it’s another step on our journey to make Perth one of Europe’s great small cities.’

If officially appointed to the scheme, Mecanoo will transform the Category B-listed abandoned 1914 landmark into a visual arts centre hosting local collections, touring exhibitions and, potentially, the historic Stone of Destiny.

The project 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.

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.

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 £11M 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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Readers' comments (3)

  • MacKenzie Architects

    I hope I am wrong in suspecting that the formula for calculating fee value would award top marks for zero fees ..............

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  • as i see it as long as MECANOO's fees are less than £3.3m the public get a building design which was viewed as 15% better for less money?

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  • Where on earth are the RIAS coming from? Are they really arguing that the project should not be awarded to the architects with clearly the better design but should instead be awarded to those putting in cheap fee bids. How does this sit with being the body charged with supporting architecture in Scotland.
    While following procedures is important if the RIAS are going advise on procurement they need to have a better understanding of the protocol for scoring than this. It needs to be achieving the best design along with value for money - not just cheap. The Council seem to have recognised this at least.

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