Call to Project Compass website users

Project Compass CIC are moving towards the publication of an extensive body of new and unique UK procurement research, and various other outputs. We are also gearing up to address the Post Brexit Government Green Paper on Public Procurement (BEIS) which is anticipated within the next few months (on top of everything…).

As someone who uses the Project Compass website, we would very much appreciate your help with both our research and our bids for future research funding by providing a short testimonial about our services.

Testimonials covering any of the following would be of great value from individual micro & SME architectural practices and agencies who do/have used our service and resources: –

  1. Reviewing, linking to and pursuing contract notices that have highlighted opportunities that you may have gone on to bid for, rejected and/or won on our Feed.
  2. Researching the client, winning practices, contract and awards data base to appraise and inform your bidding processes from the services on Sesame.
  3. Further reference/into architectural/built environment procurement, its context and environment by using the guidance, reports and research available on the site publications page; or having cause to refer others eg policy makers or commissioners to any of these.
  4. News and/or other services such as direct/advisory/consultancy or project outputs

Testimonials from individual practices would validate, substantiate and support our ongoing research work, its utility and reach. We know from our analytics that the site is being well used, but we don’t have much evidence on an individual basis.

We hope you can therefore take a couple of minutes to help us by responding to:

By way of assurance.

Testimonials will only be used anonymously except in a non-public context. If we would like to use you name in any form of publication (across any media) we will ask for your prior agreement.

We very much hope you will join with us on ensuring that the best interests of architecture, practices, industry and society can be given a clear strong voice in response to the forthcoming Government Procurement Green Paper (BEIS).

We look forward to hearing from you.

With best wishes from us all,

The Project Compass Team

Covid-19: PPN 01/20

On 19 March 2020 the Government issued Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 01/20 responding to COVID-19.

“In these exceptional circumstances, authorities may need to procure goods, services and works with extreme urgency.

Authorities are permitted to do this using regulation 32(2)(c) under the Public Contract Regulations 2015.”

Regulation 32 (2)(c) states the following: –

32.— (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:—

(c) insofar as is strictly necessary where, for reasons of extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable by the contracting authority, the time limits for the open or restricted procedures or competitive procedures with negotiation cannot be complied with.


Open Competitive Call

For young architects + planners

14:30, 4th March – 19:00, 6th March, 2020

Two Portsmouth council city centre residential towers have had their cladding stripped and been evacuated, post-Grenfell. Following survey investigations the towers are now scheduled for demolition, leaving the city’s housing stock reduced, although social housing demand continues to rise.

This new housing paradigm establishes the context for The Portsmouth Phoenix Competitive Call which is open to all architects and planners aged 40 years or less.

Site aerial from the east

Successful applicants will be mentored by the UK’s leading architects specialising in housing and sustainability, and will explore in collaborative teams over 2½ days design scenarios for future housing on the site. The Portsmouth Phoenix programme will conclude with a design presentation at an open public consultation with local residents and stakeholders.

This unique design master-class will provide a matchless opportunity to explore exemplary sustainable future urban housing, engaging the public while contributing knowledge forward to the sites development.

Site plan of study area

Mon. 10th February 2020, 12:00hrs

NB. Roughly 20 will be selected for the limited places, with about five allocated for planners. For those young professionals who will participate subsistence will be provided but not accommodation. This call is only suitable for those able to travel daily to Portsmouth or who will seek their own accommodation there for two nights (min.)

For full application details, the proposed programme and further information, download the pdf below


Portsmouth Phoenix

Architectural Design Competitions:

A Key Policy Tool to Ensure Quality in the Built Environment

30 OCTOBER 2019
Signature of the declaration by Georg Pendl, ACE President & Thomas Vonier, UIA President

Full Press Release transcript from the:

Conference on International Design Competitions organised by the International Union of Architects (UIA) and the Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE), 25 October 2019. UNESCO Headquarters, Paris


Architectural design competitions (ADCs) are among the most effective ways to achieve excellence in building and community design. They yield optimal concepts and plans for a given building programme, planning or landscape design task. Because they are based solely on the quality of proposed solutions, focused on the specific needs of a carefully defined project, competitions result in high-value solutions of great benefit to end-users, adding to the overall quality of life and design excellence in the built environment. The International Union of Architects (UIA) and the Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE) urge policymakers and government bodies to include architectural design competitions as a recommended procedure in public procurement laws, in order to promote enduring, excellent and responsible solutions for buildings and communities.

• • •

Architectural design competitions place focus on quality-based, project-oriented procedures. Competitions in architecture, town planning and landscape design offer an excellent way to evaluate multiple design proposals in a formal, professionally driven procedure, in order to find the best project for the defined need. In accordance with evaluation criteria set forth in a competition brief, professional, independent jurors assess designs submitted by competitors. Competitions are quality-based because juries make decisions solely on the basis of the quality of the proposals. They are project-oriented because their objective is to provide optimal solutions, tailored to the needs of the clients and the site.

Architectural design competitions have produced many culturally significant buildings across the globe, including the Sydney Opera House, the Centre Pompidou, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Tokyo International Forum and the Egyptian National Library in Alexandria. We urge government bodies, public authorities and private clients to pursue quality and design excellence through competitions.

Competitions offer multiple benefits to clients, competitors and society

  • Quality: They result in architecture and urban developments of high quality.
  • Innovation: They are a source of innovative, economic and sustainable solutions.
  • Transparency: They are transparent and non-discriminatory, building credibility and public trust while promoting fairness and non-corruption via anonymous entries.
  • Flexibility: They are suitable for small and large entities, and for experienced clients as well as those with little experience.
  • Guaranteed quality: Highly qualified, independent professional jurors, along with client representatives, assess proposals against well-defined criteria.
  • Cost-efficiency and visibility: Costs for competitions are on the level of one percent of the overall construction budget, while compensating competitors adequately.
  • Public participation: They offer the opportunity to involve citizens in shaping the built environment, stimulating public debate on needs and design approaches.
  • Equal opportunity: All competitors have equal chances. Competitions can provide young and relatively unknown designers with the opportunity to complete major works; they are especially helpful in providing young professionals with a very good chance to enter the market.
  • Creativity: They create opportunities to test new ideas, inviting various approaches to formal expression.

The Architects’ Council of Europe and the International Union of Architects have developed detailed guidelines for organising fair and affordable competitions, covering these issues:

  • Principles of anonymity, transparency, equal treatment and non-discrimination,
  • Independence and composition of the jury,
  • Nature and scope of the competition brief,
  • Prize monies and remuneration,
  • Copyrights,
  • Dispute resolution.

There are many possible competition forms and procedures. We have experience with all of them. Regardless of the chosen form and procedures, the combination of a good design briefgood procedures and a good jury guarantees a good result.


International Union of Architects
Architects’ Council of Europe

TheProject Compass Design Contest Guidance: for selection of Architects and Design Teams’ for UK Architectural Design Competitions is available on our publications page.

This Project Compass Guidance provides recommended practices and procedures as described and aligned to the above UIA ACE declaration.

To find architectural competition across across Europe go HERE and/or to:



Tax is outdated making refurbishing old buildings to reduce emissions and the delivery of better quality construction too expensive

The Converstaion logo

Full article in The Conversation, 25 Oct 2019 by Walter Menteth


The construction of new buildings in the UK emits 48 megatonnes of CO₂ each year – equavalent to Scotland’s entire net emissions. The materials, transportation and construction processes for new buildings are all carbon intensive. Existing buildings already embody significant CO₂ emissions which makes it all the more important to upgrade and refurbish – rather than demolish and rebuild – wherever possible. But as it stands, the UK’s tax system actually puts a significant financial penalty on refurbishment, while incentivising new construction.

Construction VAT rates for all dwellings should be simplified: with all new or existing building works charged at 5% rate, as experts have long called for. It is also proposed that the existing 0% VAT rate for new dwellings be redefined, so that developers can only obtain financial rewards if they use low-carbon construction techniques certified on completion to deliver qualitative change and create highly energy efficient buildings.

This could accelerate reductions in CO₂ emissions and improve the quality of outputs while creating long-term economic benefits by reducing demands on energy supply and materials consumption – all of which could be done quite simply.

The article here describes how. – expanded & relaunched the first international portal for architecture commissions covering all European countries has now been relaunched. It remains free to all but with its new and expanded form it now covers thirty-nine European Countries. offers greater access and insights into public procurement and competition culture in Europe, contributing to improving construction culture across the continent.

The new easy to use homepage provides access to:

  • The European legislation which applies, and which can be read in each countries operating language.
  • The national flag links to the public procurement legislation of the country in question.
  • Public procurement and competition portals for each country so they can be directly accessed and consulted.
  • Competitions guidance, information and research publications from each country
  • Links to architecture networks along with public and private organisations involved in public procurement and competitions in that country.

Never before has all this information about each of the 39 European countries been compiled, presented and made so fully accessible.

This project aligns with the European Ministers of Culture’s call in the Davos Declaration 2018, for development of a high-quality ‘building culture’ in Europe. has been created in close collaboration between ourselves (UK), Architectuur Lokaal (NL), A10 new European architecture cooperative (EU) and many partners in various European countries. The relaunched site further implements collaborations, analysis, research, findings and development scoped by Project Compass CIC, Architectur Lokaal, within the ‘European Competition Programmer Handbook:GreenArch project results‘, by the ‘Competition Culture in Europe Programme‘ and at International competitions gatherings held in Prague (CZ), Paris (FR), London (UK), Amsterdam (NL), Venice (IT), Chęciny (PL) and Vilnius (LT). is being maintained with the support of the Creative Industries Fund NL by Architectuur Lokaal (NL). The portal will continue to develop over time.

Additions and feedback are welcome.

VAT reform would promote CO2 emissions reductions, more sustainable building & cost nothing – so why the delay?

Image: 1t CO2. Olafur Eliasson. Tate Gallery 2019.

A Project Compass response to the Climate and Biodiversity Emergency objectives defined in ARCHITECTS DECLARE.

(revised & updated from a Walter Menteth article 1st published in AJ: Sustainability in Practice. 28th February 2014) [i]

Government for too long has been missing an enormous opportunity to incentivise investment in sustainable construction: VAT reform. This means redressing the long-standing skew in favour of new build over refurbishment. Current VAT rates5% for new construction and 20% for refurbishment – distort the market in favour of new build. VAT is a powerful tool which must now be used here and abroad to help accelerate low-carbon sustainable construction.

The majority of C02 emissions in the built environment emanate from existing buildings. Yet because they exist, they have the lowest embodied energy. Rather than demolishing and rebuilding whenever the most sustainable solution is upgrading an existing building evidentially this should be done. Because there is not a level playing field, the current disparity between VAT rates results in a significant financial penalty for refurbishment.

A policy paper on UK architectural VAT was produced by the RIBA’s Procurement Reform Group in 2013 (LINK AVAILABLE HERE).[ii] This recommended reforming VAT with a new ‘payment by results’ quality-based approach which was evaluated to have minimal impact on HRMC tax revenues. This relies on an incentive structure where specifically sustainable construction is met or exceeded delivering VAT benefits. This creates an incentive for greener construction and better performance.


1. First, the current 20 per cent VAT rate on repair and improvement work to existing buildings should be reduced to 5%, when the works deliver sustainability benefits that are certifiable above the minimum level of the current Building Regulations. This would encourage investment on improving performance across the existing stock.

As an essential first step reduction of the VAT rates on refurbishment to create a level playing field with new build, as has long been called for, is now urgently required.

But VAT should also be a tool to further accelerate CO2 reductions, improvements and innovation.

2. Second, there should be a standard 5% VAT rate on new-build residential dwellings. This would be applied except where such works would deliver sustainability benefits that are certifiably above the minimum level of the Building Regulations, in which case the current zero per cent VAT rate would be applied.

In both cases, the certifiable sustainability level above the regulatory minimum would in quantum and detail be set by a reasonable margin. The margins could be introduced with suitable transitional arrangements progressively adjusted and modelled for neutral cost to the exchequer. This approach to VAT reform would encourage UK homeowners to undertake sustainable improvements, and incentivise developers and industry to drive CO2 emissions reductions and push qualitative improvements in new building performance. Circular economic principles, local sourcing, recycling, upcycling, and waste reduction along with social values are all standards which could also be applied upon certification. This would further stimulate quality and professionalism, across the sector and particularly on smaller developments, reduce the grey economy that is encouraged by current VAT differentials.


The following is recommended as a development model.

Prior to the start of construction anticipated performance targets relative to Building Regulations would be set. Certification of building performance at completion is currently available through a Building Regulations completion certificate. But in this case certification extends to cover measurable performance standards upon completion and/or POE (post occupancy evaluation, as opposed to simply the designed standards).

A ‘stick’ or a ‘carrot’ approach is proposed for implementating VAT reform.

In the ‘stick’ approach.

  • A developer client would always have an incentive to achieve the lowest possible VAT rate.
  • Developer clients with design teams and contractors electing to construct projects targeted at achieving the lowest possible VAT level, where the targeted outputs were not achieved on completion, would become liable to tax.
  • For new build if a designed VAT rate of 0% was therefore targeted, and not achieved, a 5% VAT liability would arise. In refurbishment where a 5% VAT rate was targeted and not achieved, a 20% VAT liability would arise.

In the ‘carrot’ approach.

  • For developer clients with design teams and contractors working on projects targeting the higher levels of VAT, where the targeted performance outputs were exceeded sufficiently on completion, a tax could become recoverable.

What has been learnt from the Green Deal is the need to develop robust and simple solutions with the widest possible market penetration. Pragmatically and to reduce complexity therefore, it is probable that the easiest option would be to determine VAT rates at the commencement of construction for all at 5%, and then use the stick approach on refurbishment and the carrot approach for new build.

VAT reform is nothing new. In 1999, the Urban Task Force chaired by Richard Rogers included harmonisation of VAT rates as one of its recommendations. This proposition offers potential to rapidly incentivise change to more sustainable zero carbon construction, and at no cost to the exchequer, as part of the jigsaw needing implementation. It is also an international model transferable to other contexts.

If the government is to achieve significant UK carbon emissions reduction before 2050 construction VAT should be reformed now.

We cannot afford to wait any longer!

[i] Menteth. W., Sustainability in practice: VAT reform would promote sustainable building and cost nothing- so why the delay? 28 Feb 2014, In: Architects’ Journal . 239, 8, p. 62

[ii] Menteth W., Incentivising design quality and sustainability, VAT Policy paper. RIBA February 2013. [RIBA policy paper prepared by the author Feb 2013]

Competition Culture in Europe: Voices

Competition Culture in Europe: Voices is now available from the RIBA bookshop

Competition Culture in Europe: Voices, 2018

This publication comprises a series of essays by distinguished architects, competition organisers, scholars and commentators in 22 chapters on architectural competitions.

The case studies, project data, discussions and interpretive glossary, that together include reflections on historic, contemporary and future competitions and their practices, opportunities and potential, in Europe and beyond, offer a valuable resource and unique insight into competition culture.

‘Competition Culture in Europe: Voices’ arises from an open European invitation issued by Project Compass in December 2017 for articles on competitions. From among ten objectives agreed at the International CCIE 2017 Conference held in Amsterdam, the subject areas identified in the call for this publication focused, although not exclusively upon two:

• Experiences collected from architects who have won Design Contests abroad, to better understand the conditions that apply in other countries, including the benefits and obstacles.

• Critical reflection by architects on substantive competition issues, including their practices and outputs.

In ‘Voices’ the case study essays from various locations, are provided along with project data to enhance knowledge and analysis, enable comparative understanding and provide a research resource.

The four-year Competition Culture in Europe (CCIE) programme is an informal collaboration between three not-for-profit organisations, Project Compass, Architectuur Lokaal and A10 new Architecture cooperative, under the fulcrum umbrella, which commenced in 2017. The aim is to join together with others across Europe who value the culture of architecture, to inform a brighter future for design competition culture across Europe. Specifically this will happen by further expanding cooperation on competitions through the exchange of knowledge and information; increasing access to pan-European competitions by making the national platforms on which competitions are announced more transparent; and by investigating and cooperating together structurally to agree and support advancement.

The temporary House of Commons & restoration of the Palace of Westminster

What was the question this proposed temporary Parliamentary chamber and the restoration of the Palace of Westminster endeavours to answer?

  • Is it reinstating and refurbishing Barry’s 165+ year old Palace of Westminster which is now clearly no longer fit for purpose, too small and inadequate, in need of reform, and in a country desperately needing regional regeneration? And all at a time when Gov. has divested its civil service premises across Whitehall?  
  • Is this restoration being embarked on when a new constitutional settlement appears to be needed as the nations of the UK are perilously close to splitting, and what message will this contribute to that debate? Or for example at a time when there is a known need for reform of the House of Lords, which few have had the courage to face, while Parliamentarians still have constrained and inappropriate accommodation?
  • Is this just another vanity project that has had insufficient public debate, lacks imagination, vision and leadership, due interrogation, scrutiny, evaluation and appraising of the underlying need? Because this appears to have been procured with Grayling panache and many similar deficiencies to Brexit, Crossrail, or the Garden Bridge etc. – that certainly won’t elicit public confidence in either process or results.
  • Might the lack of any interrogation and resolution be further manifestation, if any was needed, of the institution of Parliament failing its wider remit?
  • Although the project management may be evolving towards an ‘Olympics style’ delivery, is the raison d’etra simply expeditious, poorly considered and lacking foresight?

To some/all of these questions, and for many, the answer is increasingly YES![i]  (whatever the merits of the architecture of this temporary Parliamentary chamber, the demolition of the grade 11 Whitefield building and the recent Bill to oversee restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, introduced only recently)[ii]  

Why the Palace of Westminster and temporary Parliament building might be the most appropriately progressive upcycling of well-loved buildings has not been sufficiently debated, cogently argued nor tenably expressed.

Unless persuasive arguments can be advanced, achieve consensus and national commitment within the current and emerging political context, the Parliamentary restoration project will likely become increasingly fraught while, ironically, further undermining the institution it seeks to restore.

The MP’s expenses scandal may pale to insignificance if in this context this is seen as another case of Gov. and parliamentarians ‘open’ accounting – ie spending recklessly, wilfully and on their own vain frivolity.

The IMF report that the Tories have now borrowed £816 bn in 8 years, while in 8 years they’ve increased debt by £1 trillion from £759 bn to £1.7 trillion, which is more than Labour ever did in 33 years in office. At issue is whether such sums might be better expended on addressing many pressing social, environmental and economic needs, as well as the robust institutions necessary to provide them. Yet instead hugely wasteful spending is detrimentally growing. 

This project is equally in danger of becoming a national millstone. It forms part of the £1.6bn masterplan, the Palace of Westminster refurbishment is projected to cost £4bn while the temporary building will cost roughly £400m.[iii]  The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee recently reported that The Palace of Westminster refurbishment, relocation costs and programme remained vague and unverifiable. 

“the process by which and by whom some decisions have been taken on restoration and renewal to date are opaque” and it concluded “it is our view that it would be imprudent for the House to commit to a specific option or timetable”. [iv]  

The costs inevitably will rise yet the projects value and political suitability, beyond symbolism, nostalgia and geographic inertia, appear undefined.

When Barry won the design contest in 1835 for The Palace of Westminster he estimated a construction time of six years, and a cost of £724,986.  The public competition stipulated that the style was to be either Classical (associated with revolution and republicanism) or Gothic (associated with conservative values). Land was reclaimed from the Thames flood plain for the construction. The project in fact took more than 30 years to build, at a cost of over £2 million, with The House of Lords first sitting in their new purpose-built chamber in 1847 and the Commons in 1852.[v]  Perhaps there are some lessons here, and in 100-165 years with sea levels due to rise this will be a strategically vulnerable site, if government is planning for resilience and sustainability.

Because the current proposals don’t seem to have any vision, foresight, logic or clear sense of the zeitgeist, the country might like to know where all this money is going and why this is an appropriate spend.

This project doesn’t seem fit for a fluid, progressive and modern democracy.

Palace of Westminster

An indicative image of the temporary House of Commons Chamber, which will feature new public and press galleries, public spaces for visitors, and education and participation spaces. Source:Forbes Massie Studio


1. Indicative image of the temporary House of Commons Chamber, which will feature new public and press galleries, public spaces for visitors, and education and participation spaces. Source:Allford Hall Monaghan Morris.

[i] Temporary Parliament ‘extravagant, time wasting and destructive’, say heritage campaigners and architects. Harry Yorke, The Telegraph 10 May 2019

[ii] Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill 388 2017-19

[iii] Parliament refurb: AHMM reveals first images of MPs’ temporary home. Richard Waite, Merlin Fulcher. Architects’ Journal 8 May 2019.

[iv] PAC. Report 16 March 2017 on Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster: Preliminary Report Contents.

[v] Architecture of the Palace. Rebuilding the Palace

Isn’t it time for the RIBA to do more to address the appalling state of UK public procurement? Here’s an idea.

Project Compass Director Russell Curtis explains the Bloom Framework.

Here’s a brief thread on how, were it so minded, the RIBA could radically transform the UK public procurement landscape…for architects, at least.

The Bloom Framework is a privately-owned, OJEU-compliant framework

Let’s start with Bloom. Bloom is a private framework with which many architects may already be familiar. Public bodies can use this to “call off” individual practices, run small invited competitions, or full open tenders.

The reason they can do this is because Bloom is already a tier 1 supplier on an OJEU-compliant framework (NEPRO). It can appoint who it likes as a sub-contractor, hence its ability to run procurements however it wants.

This is not an altruistic enterprise: Bloom simply charges 5% on top of the agreed fee to administer the service. Both client and consultant accept this as it’s cheaper and quicker than running a separate procurement exercise for every project. It’s big business: last year Bloom Procurement Services Limited turned over £92m (note that all payments to the supply chain are made through Bloom as an intermediary, so this turnover is likely to be the total value of work procured through the framework, of which Bloom itself will take around 5%).

Now imagine that instead of running dubious competitions, RIBA was to set up a similar framework, offering architectural services to public clients. There are few organisations with the weight and reputation to fund and administer such a thing[i].

Also, now that it has a chunk of cash to spend, it could set up a similar framework, either running a full OJEU procedure itself or by applying to be a supplier to an existing one (as with Bloom)[ii].

The RIBA could demand of its subcontractors any qualification requirements it wishes…for example, that all should be Chartered Practices (or at least, if this was an OJEU framework, that all suppliers are architects with Chartered Practices or RIBA members receiving free access). Think about it: exclusive access to framework which circumvents costly, complex OJEU and is only accessible to its members! A further advantage is that the RIBA could re-establish a fee scale, requiring all architects on this framework to adhere to a predetermined range of fees. Public bodies could then choose whether to accept the terms of this framework, or to go elsewhere. My feeling is that many, in light of the Grenfell tragedy, have a new focus on delivering quality, and therefore are more likely to accept this over lowest cost.

That would certainly be something worth joining the RIBA for. And it wouldn’t cost the institute anything—in fact, as Bloom has demonstrated, it could actually make it money! People would join the RIBA just to get access to this framework, helping to combat declining membership and bringing income into the institute to subsidise its other work.

So isn’t it time for the RIBA to step up to the plate and do something to address the appalling state of UK public procurement? What is there to lose?

[i]  RIBA Competitions Office. Upper Orwell Crossings Project.

[ii] RIBA sells £31.8m stake in its commercial arm to Lloyds Bank