Anger as US firms chosen for embassy framework
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.
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