The focus of some critics on procedure has become the enemy of creativity in the Garden Bridge saga, says Paul Finch
It was heartening to read in AJ last week the comment from David Marks and Julia Barfield about the Garden Bridge procurement process, saying: ‘Had Marks Barfield been aware of Heatherwick Studio’s involvement and original idea, we would certainly not have submitted a tender. There is still honour and respect between architects and designers.’
This gets to the heart of the problem, not just about this particular project, but about the relationship of creativity to what are supposedly Simon-pure procurement procedures in respect of publicly funded, or part-funded, projects in general.
Some of the people making noise about the alleged failings in respect of the Garden Bridge have fallen into the trap of condemning creativity and private initiatives for a variety of reasons which have nothing to do with procurement procedures.
They seem incapable of grasping a simple point, which is that the project is not a conventional bridge or crossing, but a sophisticated folly. Their argument that public money is involved ignores the massive potential financial benefits to London of having yet another global visitor icon, in this case, unlike most other examples in the capital, one that is entirely contemporary, rather than an adaptation of, or addition to, a historic object.
I have suggested several times that the bridge could be paid for over the long term by charging for its use via Oyster cards. I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why this cannot be done, and I hope Mayor Khan may consider this as he comes to a conclusion about whether to make this project happen – or give a very clear signal that London hates ideas, hates innovation, and is turning its back on the creatives who make the capital tick.
Margaret Hodge was commissioned to do a hatchet job on the bridge procurement, which she dutifully delivered, preferring to write off tens of millions of pounds rather than suggesting ways in which that investment might be recovered. That is typical of the cavalier attitude of politicians down the ages, condemning, predictably, rather than producing any sort of creative response. Given her role in the procurement procedures for the London Olympics, this was certainly a case of pot and kettle, though I have seen no reference to her Stratford record in the reporting of this matter.
There is no reason why this project cannot be self-funding
Having had no involvement in the bridge project, I have nevertheless experienced nasty accusations on anti-social media when I have written about it in the past. All I can say is that in terms of location, the crossing site was identified in the Abercrombie Plan and has been the site for numerous proposals subsequently. It keeps bubbling up in a London sort of way. Regarding the cost, there is no reason why this project cannot be self-funding, as outlined above.
But there is a further consideration, which Marks Barfield has drawn attention to, which should be given far more weight in the discussion of this sort of project. That is to say the lack of respect given to ideas and their originators, and to designs in general, by non-creatives who spend their lives trying to suppress, diminish or oust architects and other designers who pursue ideas and projects beyond the dreams of the world of procurement, with its (often bogus) protocols of measurement and evaluation.
The moment people with ideas are subjected to the grinding apparatus of minimum indemnity requirements, tick-box employment policies, compulsory competition and 100-page form-filling, you know the drearies are in charge. Shame on them.
Garden Bridge planting in Spring