Henry Goss Architects


BD Blog No. 8

You're Not Qualified

My experience of competitions is varied and illustrious: I must have been involved with about 25 in the past two years. Very impressive, I hear you cry… that is until you realise that this experience extends only to the registration procedure and the reading of the first three pages of the often woundingly long PQQ. It is around this point that, with a deflated feeling of inevitability, I spy the dreaded phrases: ISO 14001, Quality Assurance Accreditation, ISO 9001, BS, IIP etc. I close the web page, revoke the Twitter feed announcing my imminent ascension to architectural superstardom and return to the overdue door schedule.

I fancy — and I have no real experience to back this up — that architectural competitions are becoming more and more a closed shop, available only to the initiated and established, contradicting the often stated preference for new, innovative ideas from upcoming young practices. The Cadogan Café competition in Duke of York Square was the most recent in this string of disappointments, providing another classic example of the requirement for ‘innovative young practices’ with all the credentials of a larger firm.

Even more bewildering was the Fort Albert competition on the Isle of Wight, which was seized upon by many like me for the very fact that at last here was an open competition with virtually no restrictions. Astonishingly, the competition organizers attempted a retraction of this ‘open’ offer just days before the submission date, a rash decision which was rapidly reversed following an immediate and vigorous outcry from many of the entrants and a subsequent rather embarrassing news article in BD the following day.

As people are always quick to tell me, architecture is an old man’s profession and what many high-pressured city professions consider retirement age is seen as fledgling in the architectural world. That may be so, but can you imagine a couple of 30-year-old upstarts today entering a contest like the one for the Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm, actually winning it, and then being commissioned to build the thing? Now, I’m not aligning myself with such masters as Asplund and Lewerentz, and neither am I suggesting that the world has not changed since 1915, but it’s worth considering that two of the early 20th century greats may never have got off the ground had they not been given the opportunity through something other than a charitable commission from a philanthropic relative.

With the OJEU process and public projects generally I can understand, to a certain extent, people taking this risk-averse approach on account of such bureaucratic legislation as section 123 of the Local Government act requiring demonstrable ‘best value’ and other constricting straitjackets of accountability. It is, however, a little disappointing to say the least when such an approach is adopted by the private sector for even the most simple of projects which could provide the perfect springboard for all that burgeoning and unrecognized talent destined otherwise to languish in perpetual obscurity.

My uncle’s house is looking a bit shabby; perhaps I’ll give him a call.

henry goss