Back to the drawing board
Thursday 19 February 1998
The Chicago IIT campus contest that Rem Koolhaas won (see left) was a very polite affair. The four finalists who lost had the blow softened by $20,000 payments. In France and Germany, where public buildings have to be selected from open competitions, shortlisted architects can be paid between pounds 5,000 and pounds 150,000. In Britian it's seldom more than pounds 2,000.
Other competitions, such as the process to find a design for the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood in Edinburgh, are not shaping up so well. No sooner had Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland, announced that it would be built at Holyrood, a World Heritage Site, than he moved swiftly to give "architects throughout Scotland, Britain and indeed Europe, the opportunity to bid for the chance to design the Parliament".
"It's a tender, not a competition, to find the architect for the Scottish Parliament," Richard Haut, publisher of the weekly architectural and design Competitions listings throughout Europe believes. The first stage will be completed by the end of March, when application forms from design and architectural firms are due at the Scottish Office. These forms are designed to weed out all but the bigger practices. So the first question on the application to the Scottish Office asks how much experience the practice has in designing pounds 50m buildings. Asking this will "disenfranchise many architects", as the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland provocatively asserts.
But Richard Haut is optimistic that architects without the pounds 50m building behind them can hitch up with a structural engineer to get in their initial application. Even if the Scottish Office is looking in the first instance "for architects with a proven ability in producing buildings of the quality, complexity, and sensitivity we are looking for on the Holyrood site", the pounds 50m question is hardly in the spirit of their stated intention to hold an international design competition. This procedure will allow the Scottish Office to choose an architect, rather than a design. It should have been dropped for an open competition in which architects registered in the UK were invited to submit sketched designs anonymously against a brief.
Holyrood hopefuls will have to get their skates on. Scottish architects suspect that the four practices which were engaged - and paid - by the Scottish office to make feasibility studies of the potential sites will be shortlisted for the building itself. Eight other names are expected to go forward into the first round, which closes at the end of March.
The RIAS has expressed disappointment at the rush - "After 300 years, for a building with an expected lifespan of hundreds of years, what are a few hundred days?" NN
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