Letter to Len Duvall, Chair of the Greater London Assembly Oversight Committee.

Dear Len Duvall

Re: Reporting oversight on the Garden Bridge

Regarding the GLA Oversight Committee meeting of 11 October 2017 on the Garden Bridge we are writing to ask your committee to consider moving to clarify a relevant issue that is raised.

This relates to how design propositions that benefit the public estate can be brought forward by London’s design community in future. We believe this will release enormous untapped potential to identify opportunities and deliver growth.

The endeavours of UK design professionals to support a project from inception are often ignored, and the knowledge lost as any scheme adopted for public implementation will then be put out to competitive tender. There is now therefore little motivation for design professionals to initiate and nurture projects from inception as almost inevitably the original designers will be preclude as the established competitive processes are highly restrictive.

This effectively locks out many of those who would be particularly well placed to support ‘bottom up’ endeavours, whether for example through the engagement of design professionals with their communities or by creating imaginative and valuable design ideas contributing to the city’s wider needs, vitality and wellbeing.

The Public Contract Regulations (PCR) 2015 provide seven procurement routes but the ‘Restricted Procedure’ predominates in the UK, while others are hardly ever used. Improved clarity could open the opportunity for procurement officers to select more appropriate procedures. Because it aims to secure design copyright (PCR 2015, Reg. 32.2[b]1) use of the ‘Negotiated procedure without prior publication’ offers significant potential for clients to access the ideas and knowledge of those involved in ‘bottom up’ initiatives.

The regulation (32.2[b]) however is caveated ambiguously, in the following terms:

“when no reasonable alternative or substitute exists and the absence of competition is not the result of an artificial narrowing down of the parameters of the procurement”

An absence of guidance in the UK for procurement lawyers, specialists and public authorities’ means they are unable to justify using this procurement route. This is not the case in much of Europe where it is more widely used, as clarity on this regulation often exists.

We believe that this could be resolved and this alternative route opened up if clarification of clause 32.2[b] were provided to enable clients to benefit from the knowledge and initiative of an existing design team. What is needed is a process by which a project can be transparently and clearly evidenced as delivering value, probity, fairness and quality in the best interests of the public.

Subject to upholding all these other procurement principles, and to unlock opportunity through this procedural route we would therefore recommend regulation (32.2[b]) be clarified with the addition of a peer review process, to be used only where relevant, that would allow each case to be tested on its merits.

Our suggested wording for the clarification to regulation 32.2(b) is as follows:

“In the built environment this may be evidenced by impartial independent peer review, comprising a minimum of three qualified reviewers, with no conflicts of interest and having at least ten years’ experience of holding a specific qualification directly related to the subject being reviewed.”

We propose that consideration might be given to adopting this or a similar clarification through governance, or by standing order across the TfL GLA family, or by national provision through a Procurement Policy Note (PPN). This would allow us all to benefit from the positive and creative endeavours of those developing built environment ideas for public good.

London has many challenges and it is clear that we need to find a way through this issue that will encourage design professionals to come forward with ideas and to engage with communities in order to meet them, and for client bodies to know they can access those ideas and benefit from the knowledge and work already carried out.

We trust that your committee and the GLA will give due consideration to the matters raised above.

Yours sincerely

  • Andy McConachie, associate partner Simpson Haugh Architects
  • Angela Brady OBE. PDSA PPRIBA, director Brady Mallalieu Architects Ltd
  • Carl Turner RIBA, Carl Turner Architects
  • David Mikhail, Mikhail Riches architects
  • Deborah Nagan, Nagan Johnson Architects
  • Ian Ritchie CBE RA, Ian Ritchie Architects
  • James McCosh RIBA, van Heyningen & Hayward Architects
  • Jonathon McDowell, director Matter Architecture Ltd
  • Luke Tozer, Pitman Tozer Architects Ltd
  • Meryl Towney RIBA, van Heyningen & Hayward Architects
  • Mike Davis CBE RIBA FRSA FRGS FICPD, founding partner of the Richard Rogers Partnership
  • Robert Sakula, Ash Sakula Architects
  • Roland Karthaus, director Matter Architecture Ltd
  • Russell Curtis, director RCKa Architects
  • Sarah Wigglesworth RDI MBE RIBA, Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
  • Simon Astridge, Simon Astridge Architects
  • Tomas Stokke RIBA, director Haptic Architects
  • Walter Menteth RIBA, Walter Menteth Architects

1The Public Contract Regulations 2015 – Regulation 32

Use of the negotiated procedure without prior publication
General grounds

(2) The negotiated procedure without prior publication may be used for public works contracts, public supply contracts and public service contracts in any of the following cases:—

(a) where no tenders, no suitable tenders, no requests to participate or no suitable requests to participate have been submitted in response to an open procedure or a restricted procedure, provided that the initial conditions of the contract are not substantially altered and that a report is sent to the Commission where it so requests;

(b) where the works, supplies or services can be supplied only by a particular economic operator for any of the following reasons:—

(i) the aim of the procurement is the creation or acquisition of a unique work of art or artistic performance,

(ii) competition is absent for technical reasons,

(iii) the protection of exclusive rights, including intellectual property rights,

but only, in the case of paragraphs (ii) and (iii), where no reasonable alternative or substitute exists and the absence of competition is not the result of an artificial narrowing down of the parameters of the procurement;

Heart of the matter: Why architects need a key role in the construction process

(This article was originally published in Planning & Building Control Today).

To find an architect lamenting the erosion of the profession’s role within the construction process may elicit from many little more than crocodile tears, and to others, smack of a futile act of self-preservation when faced with challenging financial targets, shrinking capital budgets and the avoidance of risk. But whilst architects’ railing at the demotion of quality in favour of ‘certainty’ is hardly new, events of the last year have suddenly thrust our concerns into the spotlight.

It is still far too early to apportion culpability for the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower in June, but it is possible that this may emerge as the latest, and most tragic, manifestation decreasing oversight that architects have been warning about for so long. At the very least, there is clear evidence that a lack of professional, independent scrutiny has resulted directly in catastrophic failures elsewhere which could — had circumstances been only very slightly different — have resulted in tragedies of their own.

One example is the Edinburgh Schools fiasco, where Professor John Cole’s extensive inquiry into the collapse of a masonry wall at Oxgangs School in Edinburgh identified clear areas where a lack of oversight during the construction phase allowed poor workmanship to creep, unchecked, into the works. Crucially, it became apparent that this was not an isolated incident, but one which was found to be endemic in the wider schools delivery programme, with a further four collapses directly attributed to workmanship not in accordance with the consultant’s designs. Professor Cole determined that independent scrutiny would likely have prevented such incidents occurring. As well as the obvious risk to life, such events have had a dramatic financial and personal impact, with hugely expensive rectification work and extensive disruption to the education of students the new buildings were supposed to enhance.

There are innumerable, less spectacular, examples to be found throughout the country, many resulting in minor irritations but others which dramatically affect the enjoyment of buildings by those who inhabit them; in some cases, such as the Orchard Estate in east London, where the result of poor quality construction and a lack of oversight has had a detrimental effect on residents’ quality of life (2).

It is a criticism often levelled at architects (and one not entirely without merit) that we have allowed ourselves to be pushed to the margins of the construction process, becoming adept at piloting complex schemes through an increasingly tortuous planning process, but superfluous when it comes to putting the thing together on site. One consequence of a decade of austerity is the presence of many young architects rising through the ranks of the profession for whom an understanding of construction techniques remains an abstract concept; lines on a drawing which have no analogue on a muddy building site. Whilst there’s some truth in this, in reality our marginalisation extends back far further than the recent financial crisis, with our traditional role at the heart of the construction process having diminished gradually as contractors, and other professionals, stepped into a void that we only had a small part in creating.

A shift away from what came to be known as ‘traditional’ contracting, and the adoption of so-called ‘collaborative’ forms of contract, exemplified by design and build, were conceived as a way of reducing the adversarial nature of construction in the hope that by working together the entire team could focus on delivering projects to programme and budget. It was expected that D&B would magically reconcile the elusive triumvirate of cost, quality and time. What really happened was a transfer of risk, with the balance of power shifting from the contract administrator (a role most often fulfilled by the architect) to the builder. With the architect no longer acting on behalf of the client, and often taking their place as just another subbie within the builder’s extensive supply chain, the custody of quality was left up to those consultants, often from a cost background, remaining by the client’s side. The benefit was obvious: a contract could be signed — often much sooner than would previously been possible — and the cost was fixed, with the risk of cost overruns now the responsibility of the contractor. It was up to the builder how to deliver the project within the sum agreed, and any unexpected increases would be down them to resolve. This arrangement was so compelling it became the default choice for most public sector projects of any significance. The inevitable consequence was, however, that contractors would look to save money within the parameters laid down by the contract information in the desperate hope of widening excruciatingly narrow margins. Something had to give, and the sacrifice was quality.

There’s a perception in some sectors that our obsession with quality is simply a demonstration of our detachment from the realities of modern contracting. Why spend £50 on a tap when we could spend £500 and have it in gold? This is nonsense, of course. Our concern extends not only to the needs of the commissioning client but also those who will ultimately occupy those buildings we design; rarely are these the same, particularly in the public sphere. We care about the contribution our buildings make to wider society; the effect on those who live and work around them, too. We understand that decisions made during the design stage can have a profound effect on longevity, enjoyment and quality of life. Quality extends not only to the thoughtfulness of the design, the selection of materials and how they are put together, but to the enjoyment of those that live, love, work and sometimes die in them. The impact our buildings have on the lives of the people that inhabit them can be profound and success cannot simply be assessed on the day the building is handed over, but only after months, years or even decades have passed. Architects understand that construction itself is only a brief excursion within a far greater journey. By retaking our position at the heart of the process we can concentrate our efforts on arriving at the right destination.

(1) “Edinburgh school wall collapse report highlights ‘lack of scrutiny’”, BBC News, 9 February 2017

(2) “Orchard Village: what went wrong with PRP’s flagship housing scheme?”, Architects’ Journal, 15 February 2017

Conference on Competition Culture

How can architects, especially the new generation, find out what design contests are announced in Europe? What considerations should they make to decide if they’re going to participate in an architect selection abroad? And what is the chance a winning plan will be built? Architect selections for commissions below EU thresholds are not published on the official website Tenders European Daily (TED). Smaller commissions stay below the radar and, above all, not all European countries are members of the European Union.

In order to gain better insight into the current situation, Architectuur Lokaal will host a two day international conference in Amsterdam: Competition Culture in Europe, on September 28 and 29. The conference will mark the start of a four-year program on competition culture in Europe.

Survey

A10 Logo

Architectuur Lokaal has mapped out the competition culture in seventeen European countries by means of the Steunpunt Architectuuropdrachten & Ontwerpwedstrijden (Helpdesk Architectural Commissions and Design contests), Project Compass CIC and the correspondents of A10 new European architecture Cooperative. At the conference, the results of the survey will be shared among the participating countries. The results will be analyzed in-depth in the presence of the researchers, various architectural organizations and other stakeholders from European countries. Afterwards, the preliminary results will be published online. Participation by invitation only.

Four-year program

Architectuur Lokaal is the only independent organization in the Netherlands that is consistently engaged in improving the competition culture. In recent years we have noticed a growing interest in design competitions in the Netherlands. Design competitions contribute towards new solutions to new questions and offer opportunities to young architects who struggle to get access to (European) tenders. Competitions have proven to be a relevant instrument that fits well into the new relationships and positions surrounding spatial assignments.

The conference Competition Culture in Europe will mark the start of a four-year program of Architectuur Lokaal which will continue to work across the border in the coming years. The purpose of the program is to:

  • Further expand cooperation on competition culture in Europe by exchanging knowledge and information;
  • Increase access to competitions outside the Netherlands by disclosing the national platforms on which these competitions are announced;
  • Investigate possibilities for structural cooperation in accordance with Project Compass.

Information

For more information: contact Margot de Jager.

the independent, European portal for architectural competitions & contests.

Project Compass CIC Director appointed to Mayor’s Design Advocate panel

One of the founding directors of Project Compass CIC has been appointed to the Mayor of London’s Design Advocate Panel, it was announced on Monday.

In his foreword to the publication the Mayor made a commitment to promoting better procurement of design services, as well as holding design competitions for some GLA projects.

The foreword reads:

“We will use open procurement processes such as design competitions to seek the highest standards for public projects and will push the firms we commission to do much more to tackle the under-representation of women and people from minority groups in the built environment professions.”

The full publication is available to download here.

Portsmouth Elephant Cage reports: Southsea common

Following conclusion of the 2 stage of ‘The Portsmouth Elephant Cage’, , a new Project Compass report, summarised the findings, and synthesising an alternative strategic design for Portsmouth’s Southsea common and its frontage has been published.

Written up by Director Walter Menteth, this is published by Project Compass, is being distributed under ‘The Island City papers’ imprint, and is available here.

The international programme took research evidence from wide sources and case studies. The report examines and evaluates the sea defence proposals for Portsmouth’s Southsea common and found that a better solution having wider benefits was entirely possible and feasible and such an alternative is described and illustrated.  The report also recommends actions forward to address the apparent shortfalls with the existing proposals.

The programme organised by Project Compass and our Dutch partners Architectuur Lokaal ran between Nov’16 and March ‘17.

Building better flood resilience for Southsea’s frontage and common.

A synopsis of UK Architectural Competitions Practices & Trends

Project Compass CIC have published a newly commissioned report covering UK architectural competitions that forms part of a comparative evaluation, stocktaking & exploration of European competition culture. It includes some case studies & has been undertaken to collate info. to further research the opportunities & potential expansion of alternative innovatory European practices. PCompass director Walter Menteth has written on some of the findings from the case studies separately in further detail here.

Procurement guide: Better Prospects & Opportunities

PCompass director Walter Menteth will be delivering an RIBA CORE CPD PROGRAMME in 14 English cities over 2017 entitled ‘An Essential Guide to Public Procurement: Better Prospects & More Opportunities’. These seminars are Open to the Public. Details of dates & venues close to you are available here.

The seminar will cover: the background & context; the new regulatory environment; Understanding a competition, the notice and brief  Pre market engagement; RIBA Ten Principles for Procuring Better Outcomes; Competitive bidding; The questions as to how change in procurement culture with better competitive processes and practices can be embedded, will also be addressed.

The seminar will provide: an update on public competition reforms, the principles & contributories, as well as efficiency & effectiveness, SME access & levelling the playing field.  The RIBA Ten Principles for Procuring Better Outcomes will be detailed, including advice on encouraging consortia bids from smaller practices, tips on consultant capability assessment, & selection of suitable building contracts.  Competitive bidding & the bid itself will be explored, including do’s & don’ts on practices strengths & weaknesses, content & tone of responses to a tender invite, & identifying pass/fail areas, as well as understanding learning opportunities from the tender evaluation stage & feedback.

The European Single Procurement Document

The European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) came into force on 26 January 2016, is now aligned to UK procurements and its digital implementation across Europe will be completing in 2017 – What more do you need to know and do? Read more here.

The highlights (and a few low points) of 2016’s design competitions

(This article originally appeared on Dec. 16, 2017 on the Architects’ Journal website, HERE.)

Those with their noses pressed firmly to the grindstone of the public sector will know that 2016 presented an increasingly exasperating array of pungent procedures and cack-handed contracts.

Despite evidence of good practice emerging in isolated pockets across the UK, many of us continued to wrestle with excessively complex, unnecessarily verbose prequalification questionnaires and archaic and bewildering web portals seemingly coded on a Commodore 64.

It was a big year for high-profile cultural projects. The Museum of London began and concluded the selection of a design team for its new Smithfield home, with the award going to a talented team headed by Stanton Williams. Meanwhile, in Essex, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council commenced, abandoned, and began again its search for an architect to take forward the Thames Estuary Museum it had previously awarded back in 2009, but which had ground to a halt in the seven years since AEW’s original scheme won planning. Quite who’s up for taking on this apparently Sisyphean task might become apparent early in the new year.

Continue reading “The highlights (and a few low points) of 2016’s design competitions”

The Portsmouth Elephant Cage

Designs will be presented to the public & stakeholders from this unique Anglo-Dutch architectural, landscape & engineering competition on Friday 25 Nov. from 5.00 – 7.30 at The Portsmouth School of Architecture, Eldon Building, Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth.

These designs provide a range of best practice Dutch and UK options and proposals for the Portsmouth and Southsea frontage that respond to climate change induced rises in sea level.  The work is also intended to inform and advance sea defence design strategies faced by other low lying coastal cities. Details of the competition brief can be found here.

You are welcome to attend.

This competition is being organised by Project Compass with our Dutch partners Architectuur Lokaal & the Portsmouth University School of Architecture. If you wish to organise an Elephant Cage contact Project Compass.