As an unsuccessful entrant, it is difficult to comment on a competition without it sounding like sour grapes but Reinier de Graaf’s commentary is fair, timely and accurate. Too often competitions are used ‘politically’ in lieu of genuine consultation or even proper communication about a need. Once again it is heart-breaking to see so much time, cost and creative energy freely invested with such incredibly long odds of success. If Westminster calls time on the idea of a bridge to Pimlico, will the competitors be reimbursed their £4m?
Regrettably, this competition appears wasteful and confusing and it is the architectural profession which carries the heaviest financial burden, with most engineers sensibly leaving the architects to lead the way with a peacock image intended to catch the eye of the jury, or the press or maybe the public: who actually was judging? This was a competition whose prequalification threshold was so low that 87 teams made the first cut, effectively an open contest, with the claim that this opens the door for small, young and newly-established practices. Yet the four selected are established, distinguished even venerable practices – all excellent architects but with not a youngster among them. And was it really a selection of teams, as claimed, or designs? If so, why put so much media emphasis on “a design” yet fail to select so many practices with considerably more bridge design experience (Ney & Partners, Wilkinson Eyre, Dietmar Feichtinger, McDowell + Benedetti among others…)?
Good competitions offer valuable choices to clients and opportunities to architects, whether to younger or smaller practices or established firms. They encourage research and innovation, promote public debate and emphasise the value of good design however, where the brief isn’t clear and where the costs of wasted resources are so high, they are rightly seen as a dead weight on the profession. For the sake of those left in the contest and for those of us who believe in the social importance of public infrastructure, let’s hope the politics catch up with the designs.