Architects' plans may not leave the drawing board if they rely on the Lottery

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The Independent Online
THE National Lottery is dragging firms of architects out of deep recession - but worries are already emerging about the direction in which the profession is being pulled.

According to a new survey by the Royal Institute of British Architects Journal, practices are more optimistic about their workload that at any time in the the past five years. Much of this hope is generated by Lottery projects, which account for a quarter of all new work.

Companies that specialise in the right sort of projects are busier than ever. RHWL, a leading theatre and arts designer, is responsible for one of the first Lottery projects to be approved - the pounds 30m renovation of the Sadlers Wells theatre. "It would probably not have gone ahead without the Lottery," says senior partner Nick Thompson. "Virtually all our current arts projects have Lottery applications attached to them."

But Mr Thompson says: "A lot of other firms are being battered." Many are finding that the Lottery is increasing their workload, but not their fees. According to the RIBAJ survey, 47 per cent of architects are not being paid for work they are doing on Lottery-driven schemes.

Rab Bennetts, chairman of RIBA's competitions committee, sees the problem as twofold: there is no guarantee that the schemes will ever be built; and architects are being forced into design competitions in which only the winner gets paid. "The sums of money being funded speculatively are phenomenal," he says.

Architectural competitions, which were popular in the last century, have been revived as a way of improving designs. Typically, six firms will be asked to submit detailed proposals. However, there is a less- than-even chance that even the winner's project will be built.

The fiasco over the Cardiff Opera House, which failed to get Lottery funding after a controversial competition, is likely to be repeated many times over, Mr Bennetts warns.

Increasingly, projects may also fall by the wayside for lack of private finance. Lottery rules insist 25 per cent of funding comes from other sources, but there are already signs that the charitable budgets of traditional donors, such as corporations, are fast drying up.

Mr Thompson says the Arts Council, which was responsible for the Sadlers Wells project, is the most enlightened of the Lottery funding bodies. It helps reduce risk, first by funding feasibility projects, and second by allowing the selection of architects by interview. "That means only one architect is involved from early on," he says.