Saturday26 July 2014

Arts buildings face backlash

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Clients cut back on design after high-profile schemes bust budgets

The next generation of arts buildings risk resembling sheds because clients are panicking that schemes will blow their budgets, says new research by Cambridge University.

Among the high-profile schemes to have gone over budget in recent years have been Will Alsop’s The Public building in West Bromwich and Rafael Viñoly’s Curve in Leicester.

But clients are so scared of harmful headlines that they have started commissioning less standout buildings, said Cambridge professor of architecture Alan Short who led the research.

“You do get rather bland buildings,” he said. “They are so hedged as designs. Clients and the project managers are now extremely risk averse.”

He said that architects were “criminalised” following a National Audit Office report in 1999 into a spate of buildings built using public money.

“After the NAO was unrestrained in its criticism of all those involved in the procurement of arts capital projects, they effectively criminalised large sectors of the arts, design and construction communities as negligent in the use of public funds,” Short added.

He said future schemes should be properly funded at the beginning of the design cycle. “Not enough money is made available at this stage,” he added. “There are no consultants on board because there is no money to pay fees and when they do get involved they then of course cause mayhem.”

More than £1 billion has been spent on arts schemes by the Arts Council, but research carried out by Short and other academics at the university said funding should be more targeted in the future.

“They should fund fewer projects more generously,” he said, adding that the 2012 Olympics showed how complex schemes could be helped. “Olympic buildings were very generously funded and they put a huge contingency in,” he said. “The Arts Council refused to put any contingency in and that guaranteed a complex project would turn into a deficit.”

Short said that his research, which has been published as a book called Geometry and Atmosphere, was intended to provide guidance on how to commission complex schemes.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Can anybody name one project for 'art' that had any architectural merit, reminds me of an old english prayer
    'we pray that those with money get taste and those with taste get money' too much public money has been wasted on these projects that are not fit for purpose and are designed to polish ego's and add nothing to the communitys they are situated in

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  • Robert Park

    You know, some of the greatest spaces for exhibiting art I have seen have been in converted shops, or disused warehouses.

    The vast sums of money spent on public galleries to exhibit might be better spent on arts grants to ensure that our blossoming creatives are able to keep creating - especially in smaller towns like Leicester and West Bromwich where it must be even harder for artists to be self sufficient.

    There is a place for buildings like these, but the ones that are traditionally more successful are those that have been set up by wealthy benefactors, with attached endowments in place to keep them going (Guggenheim, Getty). And if they become successful and established then they might be worthy of public investment (Tate).

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  • Alisa Selezneva

    Completely agree with Robert! If I had to organise an exhibition I would pick a shed over Vinoly's pretentious mess any day.

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  • I also entirely agree with Robert Park - well, almost. The problem is, artists take over old warehouses, jam factories etc., create a wonderful buzz, the property vultures take notice and the artists are priced out. Perhaps the arts funders could work with what the artists are already using, to strengthen the shoestring they work on and keep the rain out. (Funding for Wilton's Music Hall, perhaps?) But that doesn't help architects.

    I really don't want to have to depend on rich benefactors, however wonderful Tate, Carnegie and the others were in their day. In fact I don't think Guggenheim gives any endowment - you pay to use the name, and hope the Bilbao effect works.

    Meanwhile, there are sheds and sheds. It does help if its rectilinear rather than some completely unmaintainable shape. Foster's Sainsbury Centre at UEA set a pretty good example.

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