RIBA Competitions accused of exploiting architects

Elizabeth Hopkirk

Jeremy Till

Source: Gary Wallis

Central St Martins’ Jeremy Till speaks out at Architecture Foundation debate

The RIBA and its competitions office have been accused of perpetuating a competition system that exploits architects.

Jeremy Till, the new head of Central St Martins, also blamed architects for willingly sacrificing unviable amounts of time and money in pursuit of success.

Speaking at an Architecture Foundation debate on competition culture, Till said: “The professional body is allowing architects to prostrate themselves on the altar of potential fame.

“Architects do this willingly, particularly now when they are in a state of economic desperation… I do wonder why the profession allows itself to be degraded in this manner.”

He said some of the great buildings of the 20th century would never have been built if they had been procured today and called for the entire competition system to undergo “massive reorientation”.

“How can one possibly design a building without a discussion?” he asked.

“The competition process prioritises the building as static object… It privileges a whole set of architectural values that are counter to what might make really great architecture.”

Till said the UK’s unregulated competition system was one of the worst in Europe for allowing exploitation.

He used a live RIBA-run competition – for the £2 million Great Fen visitor centre in Cambridgeshire – as an example of the desperate lengths to which architects go.

Five finalists were picked from more than 200 entries last month and paid £3,000: Foster Lomas, Feilden & Mawson, Birds Portchmouth Russum Architects, Boyarsky Murphy Architects and Shiro Studio.

Till said some of the entries were so detailed they could be used as blueprints and must have taken 20 days’ work.

“So that’s £800,000 at cost, or £1.28 million at commercial rates, spent on a £2 million project for which the client does not have funds,” he said.

Richard Brindley, the RIBA’s executive director of professional services, speaking at the same event, defended the RIBA competitions office for its “rigour, credibility and prestige”.

Clients must adhere to principles such as transparency, paying honoraria and protecting competitors’ copyright, he added.

 

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