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Starchitects team up for Olympicopolis bids

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Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Heatherwick, Adjaye in the running as smaller firms cry foul

Two super groups have submitted bids for one of London’s most high-profile competitions: the contest to design a new educational and cultural quarter on the Olympic Park.

Stars already in the running include a collaboration between Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Amanda Levete and David Adjaye and a joint bid by AECOM, Heatherwick Studios, Alison Brooks Architects, Haworth Tompkins, Stanton Williams, Asif Khan and Carmody Groarke.

But a number of smaller practices have complained about the contest’s entry criteria, and the demands on those shortlisted for the so-called Olympicopolis project.

The development, in Stratford, east London, will create homes for the Victoria and Albert Museum, Sadler’s Wells, University College London and the University of Arts London.

Hundreds of architects and designers have registered for the competition, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, which closes on 11 November.

The new quarter, on the former London 2012 site, is expected to cost around £400 million, and has been modelled on the 35ha Albertopolis development around Exhibition Road in South Kensington. It could also house a new outpost for the Smithsonian.

But the entry conditions, which stipulate a minimum combined team turnover of £25 million for each of the last three years, have come under fire – as has the ‘scant’ £10,000 honorarium for the shortlisted bidders.

According to sources, the work required has been estimated at nearer £100,000, with teams potentially expected to produce designs to RIBA stage 1-2 for each building as well as a masterplan.

Russell Curtis, director of RCKa and of procurement campaign group Project Compass said: ‘Obviously this process is aimed only at the very big practices – there are such overwhelming barriers to entry for smaller firms.’

He added: ‘The honorarium is a bit of a token gesture given the amount of work involved in the second stage … it’s dressed up as being design-led but the set up and thresholds mean it is little more than a standard procurement exercise.’

Hugh Petter of ADAM Architecture agreed. ‘Such a scant honorarium for such a significant amount of work for this project shows how much the huge effort of a practice will be valued,’ he said.  ‘The RIBA should take a stand and work harder to defend the interests of architects.’

Last week the RIBA Task Group made five recommendations in its report on how to increase the number of well-run competitions, including cutting down on the amount of wasted fees.

Responding to the criticism over the Olympicopolis, RIBA president Stephen Hodder said: ‘The client, or those running a competition on their behalf, must ensure that they are using the most appropriate selection process, are fair and transparent, and must carefully consider the requirements set for competition entrants.

‘Similalry, entrants to any competition should carefully assess the conditions and risks to ensure it is the right commercial decision for their practice.’

A Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park spokesperson said: ‘We’ve been clear from the outset we are looking for multi-disciplinary teams with broad range of experience and have already had [regisitered] interest from more than a thousand companies.

‘This is an outstanding response which includes interest from a range of firms, big and small - including newly formed consortia of both - all of which are looking to bring innovative and dynamic ideas to this exciting project.’


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Readers' comments (1)

  • There is enormous benefit in competitive selection based on design quality which can allow young and small practices to compete on a level playing field, to advance creative and innovative practice and produce higher quality construction.
    But because there are so few UK Design Contests each then attracts large numbers, this is a Catch 22. Restrictions such as those at the Olympicoplois are placed on competitors to thin down numbers. Design contests are not then open. At one level this has become a necessity.

    For example the ongoing Gugenheim Helsinki Competition Contest attracted 1,715 1st stage submissions. Average costs for Design Contest submissions (RIBA Procurement Survey 2012) amount to £5,000, which on the Helsinki 1st stage amounts to the profession expending more than euro 10.9m (over 8.3% of the construction budget). In such cases I believe the profession is being drained excessively for the clients benefit.

    To allow more design contests to occur on a level playing field that can offer better access and which are particularly suitable for less prestigious commissions they need to be more attractive to clients and the profession alike. The best route to achieve this is to develop access using new approaches such as the optional sortition system (RIBA Building Ladders of Opportunity Report) which places more reliance on the intelligent professionalism of architects. Where clients perceive risks might be excessive otherwise this can be addressed by the continental principle of allowing winning young practices to enter into production collaborations with established firms, and also by establishing base scales of honoraria for shortlisted participants.

    Together these principles allow Design Contests to be shaped more equitably for all.

    Denys Lasdun produced his first significant building aged 21. This was in a culture which perceived opportunity and professionalism as a benefit not a risk.
    It is time the profession engaged more fully with ensuring access, opportunity and reward are improved.

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