Architecture Competitions

Architecture Competitions

National Museums Liverpool announces star-studded shortlist. Jim Roberts asks whether these competitions are even worth entering.

Project Compass recently published a valuable guide to ‘Building Culture’ which charts the successes and failures of procurement across the UK arts and cultural sector. It is a useful guide for anyone procuring design for a new cultural venue.

Coincidentally, a design competition was just announced for a pedestrianisation of Oxford Circus. This comes soon after the National Museums Liverpool announced a shortlist of design teams for their Waterfront Transformation Project. The competition was run by Colander and attracted some 30 bids at the long list stage.

Nearly 60 separate practices are represented within the 6shortlisted submissions. 

Assuming that the 24 consortia that weren’t shortlisted had – on average – even half the number of team members to those shortlisted, the competition would have involved well over 200 practices.

If each consortia had a lead consultant that dedicated, say, 5 person-days to co-ordinating and compiling their bid, and each of their supporting consultants contributed a further 2 days, then a total of 450 days will have been expended.

A range of skills and disciplines is required to compile bids like these so, let’s conservatively assume that the average day-rate for those contributing was £450. The cost of compiling the 30 submissions would be over £200,000, and that’s before any bid production costs, travel and other expenses.

The 6 shortlisted teams each receive an honorarium of £10,000 so, for Stage 1 of the competition, the net cost to the industry would be at least £140,000.

There is now a second stage of competition, where the 6 shortlisted teams are required to prepare more detailed submissions – this time with a mere £5,000 toward the cost of a temporary 3D structure on the Quayside.

If teams invest a similar amount of time in preparing their Stage 2 submissions, a further £60,000 will be notionally spent before any actual contract is awarded.

The total cost to the industry – across Stages 1 and 2 – is over £200,000 before expenses.

Add in the cost of managing the competition, the client’s own resources, the time and expense of involving the technical panel, community panel and jurors, and the fact that 97% (i.e. 29 out of 30) of the ideas pitched will probably never see the light of day, you have to start wondering about the wisdom of getting into these open competitions.

It’s a funny old game. Who wins in this situation? National Museums Liverpool has clearly benefited from the combined brainpower, insight and creativity of an international design industry lobbing ideas at them for free. It’s a good gig for Colander. And one of the design teams will get a great job out of it.

But a large part of the design industry is left to lick its wounds and move on to the next one. With these odds, they’d be better off in Vegas staking the equivalent budget at the blackjack table. At least the sandwiches are free.

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