Tuesday22 August 2017

Anger over Hull University library’s pre-qualification criteria

Hull University Brynmor Jones Library
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Smaller practices complain of emphasis on experience over design flair.

New questions have been raised over the scoring systems used to procure public buildings under Ojeu after a host of commercial giants were shortlisted to redevelop the former workplace of poet Philip Larkin.

Almost 90 practices applied to design a “substantive”£10 million reworking of Hull University’s Brynmor Jones Library, where Larkin served as head librarian for 30 years, helping to oversee its final design in the 1960s.

But the shortlist of eight, including RMJM, Atkins, Sheppard Robson and BDP, infuriated smaller design-led practices which claimed the scoring system failed to prioritise flair and reflected a culture of “big and safe wins”.

A detailed spreadsheet of the scoring, obtained by BD, showed that pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) and various types of previous experience including contracts worth more than £8 million made up the bulk of the available marks with only 10 out of a possible 125 marks reserved for design flair.

The row follows Rab Bennetts’ complaint over the “insane” scoring system used for a new cultural centre in Manchester which saw his firm eliminated despite its maximum design quality score.

Richard Jobson, founding director of the award-winning Design Engine, which is working on an £80 million campus for Oxford Brookes University, said his 30-strong firm was on the point of giving up on the entire Ojeu process after being ranked 80th for the Hull job.

“We used to have a very good strike rate,” he said, “but now it’s all about health and safety. It is a total waste of time to complete PQQs when you don’t have a chance. A lot of clients are asking if you have built exactly what they are wanting to build. It’s an estate agent mentality.”

Jobson added that the sheer number of firms chasing even small jobs had worsened the “box-ticking” approach.

Edward Cullinan Architects, named public architect of the year at last year’s Architect of the Year Awards, was ranked 34th and scored just five out of 10 for design flair. Other firms such as Rick Mather Architects, Niall McLaughlin, Richard Murphy Architects and double Stirling prize winner Wilkinson Eyre were marked even lower.

“Taken with Rab Bennetts’ comments, this makes you think public procurement in this country comes up with the wrong answer every time,” said Cullinan partner and former Cabe commissioner Robin Nicholson.

“A lot of our money is being wasted because of questions being wrongly phrased and by not having someone who understands design involved in the process.”

A winner for the Hull project is due to be announced next month with the library set for completion by September 2013.

Simon Attwell, the university’s interim chief finance officer, said it had always wanted a firm with “extensive experience” of designing modern library space.



Readers' comments (14)

  • Munter Roe

    You can be assured that anything falling under the remit of the EU (and what doesn't?) will be a disaster for anyone but the big dogs. They want the tesco-isation of every market and they are achieving that goal.

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  • When will someone with new and fresh ideas but with no money and has not done anything big enters the market? If Architecture is science and art, i.e research for the best creative solution, why should small and talented companies or sole practitioners be excluded?

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  • I find it disappointing that nobody knew that the public sector percieve risk differently to the rest of the planet - it's not surprising 'cus if anything did go slightly different to what was first intended we'd love to read it on BD's front page.

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  • PS. I think corperate states and their interelationships will always find like for like safer. Managers beget Managers safe and cosey together forever xxx

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  • PPS. Long live Rick Astley!

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  • Any practice that ticked any boxes does not deserve to win anything. Hail, ye, tick box refusniks!

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  • Scoring system designed by grave diggers

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  • In the rest of the EU, competitions work very well, giving lots of small and medium sized practices work. Don't blame the EU for the failure of the British to get competitions to achieve design quality, it seems to work very well for Spain, Austria, France and Germany. Addictions to Box-ticking, Secrecy and EU-bashing are unique British traits.

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  • Dear innocents,
    The 'europeans', with their free borders, have always loved pretty bling, it's their way of showing off to their neighbours, ('keeping up with the Gotz's'). Whereas us 'brits', with our island mentality, remind me that this glorious god's own country is like the Galapagos Islands- lots of tourists on it and as a species we are slow and dogged. It's taken centuries to evolve into who we are today with our blind pride and don't forget we perfected the art of bureaucracy and peddled it around the world so when johnny foreigner goes and subverts it, of course we get a bit uppity!

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  • Don't be so hard on yourselves Brits. The phenomenon described is wide spread here in North America, and I suspect wordwide. This could be the effect of procurement agencies having access to internet searches for what they euphemistically characterise as "best practices", or a growing risk aversion to anything other than covering their backside. Other symptoms of the same malaise is the requirement that the proponent have exactly the same team (including all disciplines) for the RFQ/RFP as that in projects provided as evidence of relevant experience. This of course only enforces the predominance of large A/E multi-disciplinary firms over smaller firms that form teams with subconsultants. Generally the level of sophistication in these RFQ/RFP processes is deteriorating, where it seems the view is that purchasing "design services" is no different than purchasing office supplies.

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