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Wednesday23 July 2014

Counterterrorism competition blasted

The scenario involves a public space similar to Trafalgar Square.
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Gough asks students to boycott contest that ‘propogates paranoia’

The organisers of a student competition to design out terrorism have been accused of contributing to a “culture of fear”.

The Public Spaces, Safer Places: Designing in Counter Terrorism contest asks students to imagine a “likely attack scenario” in the form of a massive suicide bombing in a fictional public space with the same dimensions as London’s Trafalgar Square.

The brief for the competition, organised by the Royal Society of Arts, with the RIBA, the Home Office and the National Counterterrorism Security Office, is to redesign this area after 500 civilians have been killed, with a further 1,500 injured.

Piers Gough
Piers Gough

Piers Gough called for students to boycott the competition, describing it as the “propagation of paranoia”.

“The government gets blamed [for not doing enough] if there is an attack,” he said.

“They like to pass on the agony to us by curtailing our freedom. On no account should architects or students give succour to this.

“The percentage threat from terrorism is miniscule compared to others such as road accidents.

“Just when we have reached a consensus that traffic engineers’ paranoia has ruined our streets and spaces with a plethora of guard rails, central reservations and insane quantities of signage… along comes terrorism paranoia to scare us into accepting more fortification of our cities.”

Gough’s criticism was backed by the heads of the architecture schools at Westminster University and Glasgow School of Art, and by Alastair Donald, urban designer and researcher at the Martin Centre for Architectural & Urban Studies at Cambridge.

[Government] likes to pass on the agony. On no account should architects give succour to this

Piers Gough

“This creates an atmosphere of complete authoritarianism,” said Donald. “It can only have a negative effect both for designers, who find themselves subsumed by yet more regulations… and for society at large, which is increasingly forced to accommodate the culture of fear.

“Counterterrorism is being normalised as part of the design process. When you start forti- fying public space like this, you wave goodbye to a free and open society.”

John Adam, professor of geography at University College London, also agreed the competition was misjudged.

“The brief asks, ‘Can anything be done to mitigate against person-borne improvised explosive devices?’” he said.

“The answer from Baghdad is that, even with check points every few hundred metres, you can’t defend against them.

“It has to be left to MI5 and MI6, trying to stop it further up stream.”

But John-Paul Nunes, head of education projects at the RIBA, denied the competition could be seen as scaremongering.

“This competition is about promoting good design, not creating a bunker mentality,” he said.

“It encourages students to think about a specific brief, in this case changes to buildings and spaces which people can happily live with, as well as allowing attractive cityscapes that are safe and secure to flourish.”

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Readers' comments (11)

  • Instead of boycotting this competition, maybe it would be more productive to use it to do some broad thinking? Can anything be done to mitigate against person-borne IEDs? Yes, address the reasons for people wanting to blow themselves up in public in the first place. Eliminate borders? Reduce inequality? Improve mutual understanding? Just three thoughts that come to me as I'm typing this. I'm sure I could work them up into some sort of competition board in a day or so. We should not allow ourselves to be channeled by the seemingly narrow wording o the brief and use this competition instead as an opportunity to demonstrate how terrorism is a symptom of a culture of fear, not its cause.

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  • ‘Boycott this competition’ – I don’t think so! This is probably 1 of only 2 student competitions launched in the UK over the past year – there needs to be more! So let’s not scare off people from promoting further competitions and actually applaud them for once. Yes the brief maybe a bit controversial but it forces students to think outside the ‘norm’ and be more experimental in their approach. Also, just to add, many students who graduated in the last year are unemployed at present so anything to get their creative juices flowing I’m sure is a welcome relief

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  • Is this BD being a sensationalist tabloid yet again? The competition is not compulsory and lobbying for boycott reeks of desperation by a badly-written rag that struggles to sell. Let architectural students do what they want, think for themselves and get some cash in the process.

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  • Why boycott this opportunity to allow students to think for themselves? This is also an opportunity for students to get some money for their thoughts and work. I can understand the criticism to policies but to get established architects and journalists to stop students from getting opportunities is just not on.

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  • Boycotting this competition would be short-sightedness for the future architects who are in training today. Although I havent read the full brief, Piers Gough's article mentions the "fortification of our cities". I do not believe the brief refers to that at all. If anything I see this competition as a springboard for lateral thinking for designers of the 21st century. I believe that students are being encouraged to engage in the real issues affect affecting society today. Architects have been notoriously known to choose to distance themselves from public debate, only to then start moaning when their role in society and in project delivery gets nicked by QSs and specialist project managers to mention just a few professionals who are shrewd enough to see the gaping hole left by architects who choose to stay away from national debate. There is scope for this competition to inspire future architects to collaborate with other professionals in either product design or materials technology to come up with schemes that could somehow probably reduce the physical impacts of suicide bombers... materials that could shattter, stretch and disintegrate in a controlled manner and not harm huge numbers of people...... If Gough says "......by curtailing our freedom" I say that Gough should not be seen to be "curtailing students freedom and design imagination"

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  • im entering the competition and am not going to boycott the competition. If there aren't enough student competitions, we don't have a choice of whether or not we do them sometimes. In addition to this, with the high competition levels to get into uni's for diploma, we have no choice but to take advantage of any competition to bump up the portfolio. how about these people complaining about the competition do something about increasing the amount of comp's there are and then they can critisize poorly thought out competitions. till then, hush

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  • fear architecture anyone?

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  • Here is another competition that the RIBA is running with DWA Architects. Caring for Older People International Student Design Competition The RIBA are working with DWA Architects to launch the DWA Architects Caring for Older People Design Competition. DWA Architects is one of the leading designers of Care Homes in the UK and is currently celebrating its 20th Anniversary. DWA Architects is organizing this ideas competition, open to all architectural students, to mark this event. The competition is jointly sponsored by DWA Architects and BUPA Care Homes. The winning entries will be selected by Professor June Andrews of The Dementia Services Development Centre of Stirling University, Neil Hunt the Chief Executive of the Alzheimers Society, Lyth Watson the Director of Business Development of BUPA Care Homes and David Ward the Chief Executive of DWA Architects. The theme of the competition is designing for older people in 60 to 70 years time. DWA Architects has been designing care homes for older people for 20 years, but how will they look in the future? Will the care home concept be similar to that of today? Will care homes still be located predominantly in built up areas? Will the facilities provided be the same? How will social, economic and environmental sustainability affect the design? Will the current culture be the same? We have seen design standards for the physically disabled develop and become the norm. Design standards for those who live with other forms of disability, including Dementia are now being formulated. What form will these take and how will these shape the care home of tomorrow? How will furniture and landscape design be affected? None of us can see into the future, but we can all imagine. We therefore invite you to use your imagination and show us your ideas. Furthermore, you can ignore the tangle of legislation and just base your concept designs on your ideas of what form care for older people should take in an ideal world. Winning designs will receive awards of £3,000 (1st), £1,500 (2nd); and £1,000 (3rd). All architectural students may enter. Entries should be anonymous and comprise no more than 2 x A1 boards with an accompanying design statement. Full details will be available on the RIBA Competitions Office website from the launch date of 5 January 2009 with entries to be submitted to the RIBA Competitions Office by 6 March 2009. The judges will assess the entries and the winners will be notified by 16 March 2009. An awards ceremony will be held at the RIBA HQ, London at the end of March 2009 and an exhibition will follow.

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  • I hope there are some architectural students and some educators who are in touch with current affairs. Perhaps Lord West and his colleagues are doing too good a job of keeping is insulated from the dangerous realities of the age? The idea that we architects should promote some Noddy and BigEars world and leave security to others beggars belief. Architects have our part to play in designing safer environments - let's encourage the competition and encourage our students to deal brilliantly with the real world.

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  • The day when architects refuse to engage with difficult issues or dangerous problems is the day that our profession will wither away. Architects are known and revered for their ability to challenge, provoke and propose. Let's not curtail any chance to do so, particularly when it invites new talent to shine.

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