News Archive

A synopsis of UK Architectural Competitions Practices & Trends

21 March 2017

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 seperately in further detail HERE.

An Essential Guide to Public Procurement: Better Prospects & More Opportunities

17 January 2017

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 question of 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

8 January 2017

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

24 December 2016

(This article originally appeared 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.

As the year progressed we witnessed the emergence of a troubling trend: at least two public sector tenders pushed the cost of administration onto the winning consultants. In a particularly mercenary move, East Sussex Council required successful tenderers to stump up running costs amounting to a quarter of a million quid across a three-year framework (generously leaving open an option to extend it to four), providing no guarantee that these eye-watering figures will be offset by fee income. Architects already grumbling about the cost of tendering for frameworks from which they rarely get work are unlikely to be delighted by the prospect of now paying huge sums for the privilege.

To the north, then, where, in a somewhat callous response, Sheffield University batted away criticisms of its competition for a new £25 million Music Centre, claiming that the 150 expressions of interest it had received were evidence not of a tragic waste of everyone's time, but rather an indication of how enticing the entire enterprise was. The open, single-stage procedure itself called for an outline design to accompany the tender submission, a sadly all-too-common approach in which architects hand out their ideas for free in the vague hope of landing a juicy commission.

To cap off a less than auspicious year, while most of us were peeling back the first door of our advent calendar, competitors in the Helsinki Guggenheim competition were opening their inboxes to discover that, nearly two years after it was opened, the entire competition was being abandoned. Some estimates place the total cost of work contributed by architects approaching 10 per cent of the total capital cost of the entire building budget, and while nobody seriously enters such contests expecting to win, the enigmatic renders it generated were destined to remain vapourware forever more.

It wasn't all bad news. The Science Museum continued its ambitious redevelopment programme with a raft of interesting awards. March saw the completion of Coffey Architects' library, won back in 2014, while Muf's celebrated Interactive Gallery opened to the public two years after it was awarded. Duggan Morris was announced winner of the new top-floor event spaces (full disclosure: RCKa was on the shortlist) and HAT Projects was picked to design new entrance space. The Science Museum's continuing support of both emerging and established firms demonstrates that in certain sectors there remains an appetite for innovation and creativity that eclipses any misplaced perception of risk.

The past year also witnessed one or two small, but significant, successes. Cambridge University graciously lowered the turnover limit for their Biomedical Campus masterplan following pleas that the original value excluded smaller firms (although retaining a level which was still much higher than perfectly capable teams could manage). Surrey University did the same, but this time under considerable duress, after complaints that its imposition of excessive financial thresholds were in conflict with EU law. A cancellation of the contest and subsequent republication in April with marginally more modest barriers to entry was a welcome victory in an otherwise infelicitous year for higher education capital projects. HLM, a firm which could have cleared the original turnover requirement several times over, went on to nab the £3.8 million Student Union refurbishment in October.

And what's in store for 2017? The untangling of the UK's Public Contracts Directive from European procurement laws may well commence, but is unlikely to result in any significant improvements, given our national propensity for unnecessarily complex and bureaucratic processes. More importantly, the New Year provides us all with an opportunity to call out those procedures which get it badly wrong. Empowered by the modest successes Project Compass has achieved over the past 12 months, it has been great to see others assuming the mantle and taking action. The tide may finally be turning.

The Portsmouth Elephant Cage

15 November 2016

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 maybe found here.

You are welcome to attend.

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

Construction Industry Summit. 20-21 Sept 2016

31 August 2016

PCompass Director Walter Menteth & Patron Angela Brady PPRIBA will be at ‘Buying Smart-Better Procurement’ in this years Construction Industry Summit 20-21/9.Walter will addressing how the G Cloud framework & European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) models provide the construction industry significant opportunities.  

Further details HERE

Brexit Briefing

31 August 2016

Project Compass has published a Brexit Briefing outlining the likely impact of the European referendum on public procurement in the UK.

Read the briefing here.

Cambridge Uni. drops turnover bar for firms competing for masterplan

23 August 2016

Read here the AJ report on one recent success that follows an initial representation to Project Compass by one of our supporters.

The Cambridge University agreed to cut the minimum turnover requirements in its biomedical campus contest and extend the deadline. This follows pressure from Project Compass and the RIBA and representations made to Mystery Shopper and the Uni. Following this intervention Project Compass/RIBA intervention, the turnover threshold (previously min.£5m) was reduced to £3.5m. & the deadline for responding was also extended to 19 Aug. 2016, to allow practices previously excluded from the process time to prepare a submission. Project Compass will help advise and support those seeking to challenge poor procurement practice.

The crescendo of Thames Garden Bridge opposition call for an independent inquiry

23 July 2016

Following Project Compass's detailed submission of critical evidence into the procurement of design services for the Thames Garden Bridge to the GLA Oversight Committee 17/9/15, and the subsequent Project Compass Thames Garden Bridge Procurement Report 02/16 examining both procurements of design and project management/engineering services, a significant number of other further fundemental concerns have been brought to light.

Calls have been growing for the project to be subject to an independent inquiry, with the RIBA now joining the chorus. Five inquiries: by The Charity Commission, The National Audit Office, the GLA Oversight Committee, the Mayors Office, and TfL's external auditors have or are now interogating seperate issues. An independent inquiry having a remit to explore and uncover all issues together is urgently need so as to establish and report on all the facts, the lack of transparency, the many apparent systemic issues and lack of oversight, which to date has resulted in public expenditure of a reputed £37.7m. for which there is nothing to show.

Project Compass call for this project to be put on hold until the time such a single independent inquiry has reported and delivered its recommendations.

The Project Compass Procurement report, the Thames Garden Bridge Business Plan report by Dan Anderson, and a Design Critique, by Ian Ritchie along with the damning GLA Oversight Committee Report (into the Design Services procurement) are all now available in a single repository HERE.

#Remain in Europe

22 June 2016

A purpose in aligning EU procurement regulations has been to ensure our closest markets are freely accessible for design services.  The EU has constructively contributed to ensure the ongoing reform of procurement is made better, fairer, more accessible and can stimulate growth.  PCompass research evidence highlights many of the worst procurement practices uniquely emanate from the UK. The Leave campaign have presented no policy on how improvement might be achievable or delivered, with no evidence that leaving the EU would benefit UK construction procurement. In this absence what have we to go on?

Michael Gove when in education axed the BSF programme and illustrated disdain for both SME access and qualitative outputs in the schools building programme.  Boris Johnson as London’s Mayor set precedent for disdaining probity and legal process in the Thames Garden Bridge procurement. There is no doubting now that these damaging harbingers have national significance.

Should the UK vote to leave, the immediate likely impacts on procurement practices would initially be minimal as the UK has transposed EU directives into UK regulations. However upon withdrawal from the EU Treaties (which would take at least 2 years), barriers to EU market access would impose constraints on UK practices working within the EU. For many EU architects working on projects, within practices and academia in the UK, opportunities would also become constrained.  This would reduce the UK’s talent pool, diminish prospects, capacity and the economic strength of the creative/design services sector. Separate subsequent negotiations on market access to individual countries across the globe could take anything from 10 years, subject to the civil and diplomatic services having the available resources. We should anticipate a Leave decision might herald a long period of instability and reduced procurement opportunity, independently of how a Brexit might otherwise destabilise the underlying economic, cultural, social and security environment in the UK and EU. A significant recessionary decline might therefore be anticipated.

The ascendant popularists would have us believe that xenophobia, nationalism, islamophobia and isolation, within an increasingly interconnected world, is a good thing. 

PCompass on the contrary welcome and enjoy an open accessible and inter connected world where we can work together in collaboration with our European partners and colleagues in facing pressing shared issues together and solving common problems that can ensure stability, rights, freedom and prosperity.

We have no doubts the Leave campaign is entirely regressive.

We hope you will agree with us in urging everyone to VOTE REMAIN

Project Compass Newsletter May 2016

1 June 2016

The Project Compass CIC Newsletter is available HERE

This reports on PCompass's first highly successfull year in which the servioce uptake has surpassed expectations, some notable procurement trends can be seen to be changing, activities and impacts, and our anticipated future programme.  Project Compass is also calling for development funding to update,  develop and expand the initiative. 

Join Project Compass now and become one of our many highly valued supporters.

Public Accounts Committee publish report on Gov. SME spend. 16 May 2016

29 May 2016

The committee concluded:  There had been a loss of momentum in work to increase spending with SME's to 33%; areas of spend hadn't been identified; the Gov. figures were not meaningful; bidding opportunities were still not sufficiently transparent; & issues were no longer getting sufficient priority.  It recommended: Re-establishing momentum; identifying where & how SME's can add value & best compete; that data should be for direct & indirect spend across years; with seperate targets for each; & there should be more & better leadershipo to ensure priorities can be met across all departments. 

Haptic shortlisted for 11,000sq m Norwegian mixed-use development.

10 May 2016

PCompass supporters Haptic have been shortlisted for a 11,000sq m Norwegian mixed-use timber development, which must achieve Passivhaus levels of energy performance. It will include residential, commercial uses & a large car park. Tomas Stokke, a director of Haptic Architects is working with Danish landscape practice SLA, said “We are looking forward to the challenge of developing a project in such a beautiful & picturesque city”  PCompass wish them every success.

New departures in Public Procurement 19th May

9 May 2016

Thurs 19th May, 60 Great Queen St., London WC2B 5AZ. 18:00 to 20:30.  The Project mangement Institute UK (PMI-UK) construction forum will be presenting Finn Garvey author of An Architect's Guide to Public Procurement, 2015 RIBA discussing New departures in Public Procurement with PCompass Director Walter Menteth at a networking event. Full details and Registeration via  

University to drop £1m turnover requirement after Project Compass intervention

18 April 2016

PCompass Director Russell Curtis has successfully intervened in the £3.8m Surrey University competition for a £3.8m student union building extension. The tender has now been re-issued. The original tender required a min. £1m p.a practice turnover, in excess of 2x the fee earning, and contrary to the 2015 Public Contracts Regulations. Following the Cabinet Office Mystery Shopper Service complaint, the University agreed to re-issue the tender, without specifying a turnover requirement; now opening the competition to young, emergent and SME practictioners. The most relevant issues architectural practices should be alert to in the 2015 Public Contracts Regulations, are explained HERE.

We support and encourage all practices to complain were conditions are inappropriate, and particularly encourage complaints highlighting the inappropriately high levels of PI that continue to be sought. Support Project Compass CIC

European Single Procurement Document - released

16 April 2016

The European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) facility has now been released. This is a self-declaration form used in public procurement procedures by contracting authorities & businesses in the EU.  Before the introduction of the ESPD, companies were required to submit various documents to prove that they fulfil the exclusion and selection criteria of a tender, eg have paid taxes and have not been convicted of criminal activity. With the ESPD however, companies will be able to meet these obligations with a single ESPD self-declaration form. The actual documents will only have to be provided by the winner of the tender.

The European Commission has developed an ESPD online service that can be used free of charge by contracting authorities & businesses. Second, the Commission provides an ESPD data exchange model that national solutions can implement to be compatible with the ESPD. The ESPD data model is available for public authorities, providers of e-procurement solutions & any other party interested in integrating it into their existing self-declaration solutions or developing their own services.

The full potential of an ESPD will be reached when companies using it will provide links to repositories of documents that they possess to show compliance with the exclusion and selection criteria. In this way, the ESPD will act as a “business passport” for companies bidding for tenders anywhere in the EU and could shortly with memebrs support be done by directly linking the RIBA Chartered Practices Register to the service.  It is intended this will contribute to EU countries’ transition to full e-procurement. 

Reinventor Paris Competition announcement

6 March 2016

The competition announced 75 selected projects will compete in their Phase 3. This significant Paris initiative has targeted a series of municipal development sites for architectural innovation aimed at precipitating transformation in the contemporary identity of Paris, through open competition.  This modernisation programme  has been highly contested, and offers a promise that a cohort of exemplary buildings will be delivered shortly. This public commitment to regeneration has been driven by the Mayor of Paris.

Mikhail Riches win next phase of Park Hill redevelopment in innovative competition

4 March 2016

PCompass CIC supporters Mikhail Riches have been selected through an innovative competition process by developers Urban Splash to design the next wave of 200 flats in the ongoing redevelopment of the Grade 11 listed Park Hill Estate in Sheffield. To make their proposal each practice in the competition were given a flat for two weeks to show their approach to the redevelopment, which will also include 3,600 sqm of commercial space. With very many congratulations to Mikhail Riches from Project Compass. Further details maybe found HERE.

Thames Garden Bridge - Procurement Issues

24 February 2016

A NEW Project Compass CIC Report available HERE, on the procureement of the Thames Garden Bridge raises serious and significant new concerns, calls for an independent enquiry and further procurement reform. This is a comprehensive analysis of the TfL Temple Bridge Contract evaluation assessment that selected Arup and also covers summary information about the Design Services Contract awarded to Heatherwick studio. Excel Data is avalable to accompany the report.

EU Court Audit Reports slams procurement discrimination

4 December 2015

A European Court of Auditors Special Report No.10 into Procurement finds (between 2009-2013) “Serious errors led to a lack, or complete absence, of fair competition and/or to the award of contracts to those who were not the best bidders”.

This is a damning indictment of the skews that have been clearly evidenced by research undertaken by members of the Project Compass team. The report goes on to state:

“… causes of errors. The complexity of the legal and ad­ministrative framework is ... a problem, incl. ….a high volume of legislation and/or guidelines and the difficulty of applying them in practice. Lack of administrative capacity, relat­ing to both knowledge of the rules and of technical expertise concerning the specific works or services being procured, causes errors. Insufficient project planning by contracting au­thorities and clerical mistakes are also problems.”

“…analysis at both Member State level and Commission level has been precluded by a lack of coherent data.” & “….analysis of errors is still limited”

Asking whether the Com­mission & Member States are taking appropriate & effective actions, the Court found that whilst they had started to address the problem, there is still a long way to go in terms of analysing theproblem & implementing actions.

Project Compass signs agreement with Dutch to work in partnership on improving architectural procurement.

25 November 2015

On November 20, 2015 Compass Project CIC (UK) and Architectuur Lokaal (NL) signed an agreement to work together in partnership to jointly improve the procurement of architectural commissions in Europe through portal. The website makes both nations public architectural opportunities more visible and accessible by bringing all architectural commissions from both nations together onto one website. Architects from both countries now have better access to jobs in both countries.

This agreement facilitates the opening of the network to other nations organisations, support for new members and network expansion.

Compass Project CIC and Architectuur Lokaal (both independent non-profit orgs.) are committed to improving market transparency, professionalism in procurement practice with the aim of achieving simpler, more flexible approaches to procurement which can also allow young, emergent and bespoke designers better market access. Both PC and AL provide procurement intelligence, analysis, research, guidance and resources for architectural competitions. 

Perspectives on Architecture: Construction Procurement Reform and Intelligent Commissioning

24 November 2015

RIBA Events, 66 Portland Place Talk on November 24th  6.15pm - 7.15pm. PCompass director Walter Menteth will present aspects of his ongoing procurement research, shortlisted for the RIBA President's award for practice lead research, and will identify a number of propositions for change in UK public construction procurement capable of advancing reforms. This is a FREE talk, but booking is essential. Further details are available HERE

Panter Hudspith present Royal Road housing at the 10th RIBA Research Symposium

17 November 2015

PCompass CIC supporters Panter Hudspith will be presenting their Royal Road scheme at the RIBA’s 10th annual Research Symposium tackling 'The Design Quality Proposition: Ensuring and Communicating Design Quality in Architectural Practice' on 17th November.  Booking is essential and further details are available HERE

Sutherland Hussey Harris win 2015 Andrew Dolan Award

4 November 2015

PCompass CIC supporters Sutherland Hussey Harris have won Scotland’s premier architectural prize, the 2015 Andrew Dolan Award, for their West Burn Lane Housing scheme. This meticulously detailed uncompromisingly modern design is expertly woven into the existing fabric of St Andrews.

With very many congratulations from all the PCompass team.

Project Compass recommends ĎAn Architectís Guide to Public Procurement by Fin Garvey. RIBA Publishing Oct 2015

13 October 2015

Available HERE  This clear, succinct, well mapped and comprehensive up to date guide unravels the legal complexities of public sector procurement while also providing guidance for architects on how to plan their bids, manage their strategies and challenge the process. This excellent guide and is an essential tool for practitioners, students of professional studies, researchers and clients seeking to gain knowledge and extend their understanding of public procurement.

GLA Scrutiny Committee - Thames Garden Bridge

17 September 2015

Greater London Assembly Oversight committee called on PCompass director Walter Menteth’s analysis & evidence on the lack of transparency in procuring the Thames Garden Bridge.

Only 3 tenders were invited in a sub OJEU closed bid. For this award TfLs assessment & evaluations lacked logic or relationship to the briefs clear specification. They appeared skewed in favour of the eventual winner. The award winners’ lump sum fee was 11 x the lowest quote. This raised no concerns in TfL about relative interpretation of the brief & tender responses. The day rate based quote was verified in private discussion with the winning bidder, and no others, prior to determining the financial assesment would be made on day rates, whereupon it was then determined these should be scored equally.  

13 tenders were received for a second round ‘technical’ procurement for engineering.  Again the award of this contract followed a private telephone discussions between the bidders placed 7th & TfL whereupon they became the eventual winners.

TfL revealed key evidence had been lost or destroyed. Despite being contrary to their own standing orders and the TFEU, the TfL internal audit found these procurements were valid, appropriate and followed accepted practice. Walter Menteth called on the GLA to improve its transparency, and review and amend its procurement standing orders to embed Design Contests as appropriate ways to procure in such contexts. 

New Design Contest Guidance published for the appointment of Architects and Design teams.

18 August 2015

The guide introduces a variety of new practices to the UK to open the market further to this quality based appointment process. The guide is for private and public authorities, and their architects and design teams – collating all invaluable information into one easy to access document. It sets out to clarify the term ‘design contest’, to distinguish it from various other forms of competition used in architectural and all other procurements, describe practical recommendations for the use of this procedure and provides valuable tools to assist clients and architects in the process, to deliver better architecture, more effectively and efficiently.  The guide: 

Evidences and summarises reasons why design contests have been the most successful procedure for the production of our most cherished, loved and best value buildings Highlights for public clients how design contests can provide the most effective procurement route to align with the requirements of the Public Contract Regulations, the National Planning Policy Framework ( NPPF) and the Public Contracts (Social Value) Act Recommends that where Local Authorities are engaged and aligned stakeholders in design contest procedures, that separate design review panels should not be a requirement, as this would be duplication of the independent design contest peer review process. This can provide public clients an incentive for this approach to design selection.

This guide does not cover other competitive routes to procurement in the public and private sector, or where design consultants are employed as sub-contractors.  An automated online design contest system and further guidance on other forms of private and public competitions will become available in due course.

Project Compass participation in the European GreenArch network

31 July 2015

PCompass's participation in the European GreenArch network concluded with publication of a report unanimously calling for more and better European initiatives to improve competition practices, their transparency, access, and quality, and with better development of pan European digital networking and training of professional competition programmers. For more information access GreenArch HERE.

RIBA President's Awards for Outstanding Practice-located Research - Shortlist announced

21 July 2015

Director Walter Menteth has been shortlisted for the RIBA President's Awards for Outstanding Practice-located Research.  The Awards champion high-quality research, raise the profile of architects and academics engaged in research and highlight the need for research across the profession to foster innovation and strategic thinking.

Thames Garden Bridge, a procurement analysis

10 July 2015

On behalf of the Chair of the London Assembly Oversight Committee, Director Walter Menteth has been invited to present a Project Compass analysis of the procurement of the Thames Garden Bridge.

Project Compass presents to GLA lunch time university

27 May 2015

Director Russell Curtis, presented to the GLA lunch time university on 27 May 2015 the work of Project Compass and the facilities and functionality currently offered and projected for the service.

Education Funding Agency (EFA) for Englandís regional framework to be re-run. Cabinet Office respond to SME concerns highlighted by Project Compass and colleagues.

1 May 2015

What teamwork across industry can achieve

Project Compass in collaboration with the National Federation of Builders Ltd. and DeNové LLP published a joint reportEducation Funding Agency Procurement Issues’ in March highlighting the failings of the procurement process for the EFA regional framework.

The report has helped to successfully get the framework overturned by Cabinet Minister Francis Maude.

The report evidences unacceptable skews apparent at both ITT shortlisting and award stages, in the context of The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, The HM Governments Procurement Pledge and Section 1 (18,19 & 20) of the National Planning Policy Framework. 

Against mandatory government guidance  the EFA regional frameworks' minimum annual turnover requirement of an excessive £25 million, automatically excluded many SMEs.

Among other things that the Project Compass, NFB and De Nove report recommended was that this framework procurement be cancelled and re-started - this has now been agreed. 

Walter Menteth Director of Project Compass said “The report has helped to get the EFA regional framework overturned by Cabinet Minister Francis Maude. It is to be re-run, opening up opportunity for a wider more diverse range of SME contractors and their architects to be engaged. This is a real win for all wishing to see more and better access, with a democratic and open approach by Government and the public sector towards how they procure better buildings and environments that deliver more sustainable outcomes for the public’”

Stephen Allott, the Crown Representative for SMEs commented: “SMEs are the engine of the economy. The government is keen for economic growth to not be limited to a few companies or a few geographic areas but to be spread so growth is sustainable. We need to reach a point where SMEs are able to compete on a level playing field and this report and the minister’s decision are important first steps in ensuring that frameworks comply with mandatory guidance so we don’t spend taxpayers’ money fixing avoidable mistakes.”

More at:- Construction News and Architects Journal