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Wednesday30 July 2014

Are the RIBA Awards too expensive?

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Yes, says Ben Kilburn, smaller practices are being excluded; but Bill Taylor believes the new cost categories make them fairer than ever

Stanton Williams' Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge

Source: Hufton&Crow

Larger practices like Stanton Williams, whose £82 million Sainsbury Laboratory won the 2012 Stirling Prize, are better able to afford competition entry fees.

‘Yes’

Ben Kilburn
Director at Kilburn Nightingale Architects

It is divisive and exclusive for the RIBA to raise the cost of entry to its awards system. More expensive entry fees hit small practices harder than the large players, potentially creating a culture of awards dominated by a small number of large practices.

There is a danger that the awards will go the way of most competitions today. Many smaller and medium-sized practices have given up on the Ojeu process because the assessment system is so biased in favour of practices that can tick the boxes where experience and turnover are measured. It is ironic that a system set up in the interests of openness should end up excluding smaller practices and channelling work to the usual suspects.

If award fees continue to rise, the system will increasingly reward the established practices to the exclusion of those who may produce valuable work but don’t have the same publicity budget. There needs to be a way of ensuring that the output of all RIBA registered (and paid-up) architects is given a chance in this process, whether they are sole practitioners or offices
of hundreds. Perhaps the entry fee could also be dependent on the size of the practice? Or could a nominal fee be charged until the shortlisting stage, when a further payment could be made? This is when the RIBA’s expenses, along with the chance of some benefit to the participants, become greater.

The most important thing is that the awards system should serve to spotlight and reward good architecture. The RIBA should remember its mission: “To advance architecture by demonstrating benefit to society and promoting excellence in the profession.”

To do this it needs to spread the net as widely as it can, rather than limiting the field to the fortunate few.

‘No’

Bill Taylor
Architect and member of the RIBA Awards panel from 2009 to 2012

The RIBA wants all who wish to enter the awards to be able to do so. On this basis it has weighted the cost of entry according to contract value. It always has. Of course, like most principles this is a simplification, but generally those building multi-million-pound projects are better able to afford to enter the awards than up-and-coming architects or practices doing
smaller jobs.

This year the RIBA has introduced a new £5-£20 million band, not only to take into account inflation (the upper limit was set at £5 million in the 1990s) but also to peg fees below £5 million and even to reduce them at the lower end. It now costs just £75 plus VAT to enter a scheme worth under £350,000, while it’s £450 plus VAT to enter a £20 million scheme.
These fee levels don’t seem too unrealistic when one considers what one gets. Currently that is at least two for the price of one: regional and national awards from a single application, plus the possibility of going on to the special awards — ultimately the Stirling Prize.

The difficulty, I suspect, for smaller practices is that entry fees represent only a portion of the cost by the time one has taken account of staff time, photography etc. But here again, the RIBA has tried to address this in the submission requirements. So where do all the fees go? Well, the vast majority of that money goes to cover the judging costs. These are, after all, the only awards in which every scheme entered in the UK is visited by an architect at least once. Such rigour doesn’t come cheap. But rather like satisfied clients, I doubt that you’ll hear too many winners complaining about the “value” of entering the RIBA Awards.

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