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Friday25 July 2014

V&A learns too late to pick an architect, not a design

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Kengo Kuma’s troubled Dundee scheme calls the whole competition process into question

Amanda Baillieu

Amanda Baillieu — editor in chief

Competitions are rarely a level playing field. But the one to choose an architect for a V&A outpost in Dundee has called the entire process into question.

From the moment Kengo Kuma was selected as the winner in 2010, alarm bells started ringing. And it was not simply that Kuma’s design demanded a man-made promontory so his building could hang seductively over the Tay.

One of the shortlisted teams did its own calculations and concluded that Kuma’s design was a third bigger than the brief had asked for and probably twice the budget, given the construction methods and diagonal slanting walls.

Last week, the V&A was forced to admit that it would be “irresponsible” to proceed with the original plan because of the risk to budget and timescale.

We’ve been here before, of course, with Snøhetta’s daring — but ultimately unrealisable — design for Margate.

But for every competition win that gets dropped, far more get built late, over budget and too often caught up in messy and expensive litigation as well.

We hope the V&A Dundee project won’t turn out to be one of those — but the signs are not good.

While it is unrealistic to expect the competition to be re-judged — although there is probably an EU rule somewhere that would allow this — the losing architects surely have a case to argue that they should have their costs recouped, since the competition rules have been so flagrantly broken?

But there’s a wider lesson too, which is that competitions that insist on picking a design rather than an architect rarely have a happy outcome.

Had the V&A and its partners selected an architect they felt they could work with, rather than a design that wowed the public, it’s unlikely they would be facing the current backlash and the very real fear that Kuma’s ethereal structure might never be built at all.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Competitions generally are to pick an architect rather than a scheme, aren't they? Otherwise, trying to build out a design that was thrown together during a few all-nighters and too many coffees is a recipe for disaster.

    Design competitions should provide applicants with an opportunity to demonstrate their approach, not to present a design to be taken forward.

    Obviously any entry which completely disregards the parameters of the brief should be discarded.

    The problems with the projects mentioned above is not that they were procured through a competition per se, but that the competition process itself was deeply flawed.

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  • zecks_marquise

    Maybe we should all take a leaf out of the west coast debarcle and sue every competition that we don't win? It will certainly be more lucrative than actually designing anything

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