Arts buildings face backlash
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.