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Sheffield uni blasted over ‘exploitative’ music centre contest

University of Sheffield masterplan
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Project Compass has accused the University of Sheffield of wasting architects’ time and money in its procurement process for a new £25 million music and performance art centre

The procurement reform campaign group raised concerns about the open, single-stage tender – which it claimed required large amounts of work from those wishing to enter – and described the process as a ‘weird hybrid’ and ‘very wasteful’.

Project Compass also complained that, because the cost of architectural services varied for each submitted design, the 20 per cent of the total marks given to tender price would be difficult to evaluate. 

Defending the process, university director of estates Keith Lilley said the project had been tendered outside an existing framework ‘to give all those with the relevant skills and experience the chance to demonstrate what they could bring to the project’.

He said: ‘We made the process as open, fair and transparent as possible to encourage interest from a wide range of potential bidders and we had interest from as far afield as New York and Holland.

‘We recognise that it is a lot of work for people, but we had over 150 expressions of interest, dealt with over 50 clarification questions, and undertook more than 25 site visits for potential bidders – all of which demonstrates clearly that there was a real appetite for this exciting opportunity.’

Project Compass director Russell Curtis replied: ‘While it is laudable that the university was keen to open up this opportunity to practices not on their framework – which in itself makes one wonder what the point of having a framework is in the first place – any successful procurement must balance the selection of an architect with minimising the abortive work undertaken by bidding teams.

‘It is arrogant for Sheffield University to celebrate how many expressions of interest they received without acknowledging the vast amounts of money wasted during the procurement process. A better procedure would still deliver them a world-class building without exploiting the goodwill and enthusiasm of interested parties.

‘What other profession would accept such significant amounts of speculative work for such a small chance of success?’

The proposed PEARL building, on Sheffield’s Upper Hanover Street, will provide new combined facilities for the university’s music, theatre studies and creative writing departments.

According to the contract notice: ‘The new building will enable music, theatre studies and creative writing to develop, and expand teaching, research and grant capture, while also offering all university students and staff enhanced performance opportunities, and contribute to the university’s pledge to support a strong and vibrant city.’

The scheme will replace a series of warehouses and former light industrial buildings opposite Sauerbruch Hutton’s and RMJM’s Jessop West humanities building, which opened in 2009.

The building will feature a flexible recital hall capable of seating between 200 and 650 people alongside a 300-seat ‘black box’ theatre and a 160-capacity rehearsal studio.

It will also house two music psychology laboratories, an ethnomusicology studio, seven practice rooms, two sound-proofed music studios and a variety of breakout spaces and multi-purpose rooms.

The competition, which closed on Friday (17 October) came 16 years after Nigel Coates Architects’ competition-winning National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield closed to the public. The £15 million landmark – which opened in 1999 – went into administration after failing to attract enough visitors and has since been transformed into a student union for Sheffield Hallam University.

Earlier this year AJ120 practice Bond Bryan won planning for a 12,500m2  four-storey glass atrium linking the university’s Grade II-listed Mappin Building with the 1855 Central Wing.

Other nearby university landmarks include GMW’s 78m-high Arts Tower and RMJM’s copper-clad Information Commons (pictured).

The winning team will develop PEARL from RIBA Stage 1 to 5 and will be novated to the main contractor during project delivery. The building is set to be completed in 2019.


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