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Thursday24 July 2014

Anger as US firms chosen for embassy framework

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Call for procurement reform grows as Foreign Office appoints RTKL and URS Scott Wilson

The appointment of two American firms to the Foreign Office design framework has sparked anger among UK practices responsible for some of the country’s most prestigious embassies.

RTKL, URS Scott Wilson and Jordan & Bateman are the only firms that made it on to the new framework for architectural and lead design services.

While they all have UK offices, the first two are multi-disciplinary firms with their headquarters in the United States.

URS Scott Wilson has also been appointed to two other Foreign Office frameworks: engineering and building surveying.

It also emerged that the Foreign Office’s procurement process allocated 80% of the marks to cost and only 20% to quality, adding further weight to the argument for pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) reform.

Richard Murphy, who has worked on two projects for the Foreign Office, accused it of a “dramatic reversal” of its previous policy of promoting the best British design talent.

“It says to the rest of the world that we are a mean, penny-pinching, unimaginative bunch of people,” he said. “That’s what really upsets me, though it is incredible to give jobs away to the Americans.”

John McAslan, who designed the award-winning embassy in Algiers, said: “One wonders what the selection says about the ambition of the Foreign Office.”

The news follows widespread concern among architects that publicly procured projects do not focus enough on design.

Jo Bacon, the partner who worked on Allies & Morrison’s bid for the framework as well as on the practice’s Dublin embassy, said: “It might have been more honest to say that money was 100%. It’s a pity that the quality of design in our representation to foreign countries is given such a low priority.”

One source with experience of building embassies said he felt the framework was a “pragmatic” response to budget constraints and that the three firms would not be working on design jobs.

In a statement the Foreign Office said it was determined to get value for money for the taxpayer while complying with EU procurement law.

“We seek to provide briefs which mean the design of British embassies reflects a modern image of Britain of which we can be proud,” it added.

However, the Foreign Office refused to comment on whether the architects for prestige projects — such as the long-awaited new Beijing Embassy — might yet be appointed outside the framework.

Sign the PQQ petition http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/273

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Readers' comments (13)

  • zecks_marquise

    What we really have to ask is how competitors from other developed countries can be cheaper than us yet still offer the same service? This a global economy, and these are global commissions. If you can't afford to compete, you really need to look at yourself before you start complaining.

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  • Perhaps English practices should stop worrying about quality and compete directly with these American practices on a minimum effort, minimum cost approach. In fact, why don't the FCO just appoint a contractor to do the design work? I am sure they would be more competitive.

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  • Whenever did value for money become the only value the UK recognises?

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  • Mike Duriez

    Clearly such "non-design" firms can perfectly represent the values of the coalition: shortsighted costcutting, and emphasise a renewed vision of Britain as a very much declining nation.

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  • Munter Roe

    Unfortunately, it's a race to the bottom.

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  • RTKL may be a US design firm but their parent company is ARCADIS which is a Dutch firm.

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  • So the logic is 'American' firms shouldn't compete for 'British' projects... Then let's kick the Brits out of New York, Singapore, Beiing, etc as there is plenty of local talent there. Then let's make sure London firms stay out of Belfast, Manchester and Glasgow. And Manchester firms out of Rochdale... Keep complaining and trying to build walls around your patches mate while the rest of the world get's on with it.

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  • David, are British (or any architects of other nationalities or non-US citizens) allowed to carry out US embassy projects? Somehow I doubt it.

    Call me old fashioned but embassies support more than just functional requirements, they represent the nation they serve and should not be purely about the cost.

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  • The US does not allow non-American firms to be the lead designers of their embassies. This should be the UK's position as well. It is not protectionism, just common sense and appropriate recirculation of taxpayers' money.

    However, using the image of the Warsaw embassy on the home page is not a good example of keeping either the budget or design propriety under control. This is the very antithesis of what the FCO needs to be achieving.

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  • "British embassies reflects a modern image of Britain of which we can be proud" - made in USA

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