Studio E email acknowledged it was ‘a little green on process and technicality’ and proposed ‘some rapid CPD’
Studio E was appointed architect of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project without an Ojeu process and despite being “a little green” on technical expertise, the inquiry heard.
It was picked “apparently on the grounds of speed and convenience alone” because it was already working on a school at the foot of the tower, said Stephanie Barwise, counsel for some of the bereaved survivors and residents.
She accused all the professional disciplines, including Studio E, of an “epidemic level of incompetence from a fire safety perspective”.
Barwise claimed the decision to reclad the tower was partly prompted by a belief – shared by the architect, the council and the tower’s management (TMO) – that its shabby appearance detracted from its new neighbour, Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre (KALC).
Barwise said: “An obsession with aesthetics which was to dog the project began at this early stage. [The council] RBKC and the TMO feared Grenfell would appear a poor cousin to this brand-new facility next door. Grenfell was also regarded as an eyesore by Studio E, the architect RBKC had engaged for KALC, who later became the architect of Grenfell.
“Studio E expressed the view that Grenfell created a poor-quality frontage for KALC, thereby endangering the success of the KALC project, which remained RBKC’s priority throughout. Overcladding Grenfell was seen as a solution to RBKC and others’ aesthetic concerns.”
However, there was also a pressing need to upgrade the tower for other reasons – namely that its heating and hot water system was beyond economic repair, and its windows provided neither sound protection nor insulation.
As one of their architects said in an email on winning the project, they were ‘a little green on process and technicality, so I propose some rapid CPD’
Opening statement from residents’ counsel
However, Barwise said: “The TMO circumvented public procurement legislation by requiring the consultants involved in KALC, whom TMO decided to use on Grenfell, to cap their fees below the thresholds at which the then-in-force Public Contract Regulations would have required a competitive procurement process under [Ojeu]. The balance of the consultants’ fees would later become payable by the contractor once the professionals’ contracts had been novated to it.
“Such a procurement process [via Ojeu] would have ensured transparent competition, and should have resulted in the most suitable and qualified professionals being appointed.
“Instead, TMO conducted no competitive process and, apparently on the grounds of speed and convenience alone, retained Studio E as the architect for Grenfell, even though Studio E had no experience of high-rise building or heating renewal, nor of cladding.
“And, as one of their architects said in an email upon winning the project, they were ‘a little green on process and technicality, so I propose some rapid CPD’.”
Elsewhere in her opening remarks, Barwise said: “One hallmark of the Grenfell disaster is the epidemic level of incompetence from a fire safety perspective across substantially all the disciplines involved, both in the refurbishment and in the management of the building.
“These disciplines include TMO and its fire risk assessor, and many of the professionals and contractors involved in the refurbishment, principally the fire engineer, Exova, Studio E, Rydon, Harley, and other subcontractors, as well as RBKC building control.”
Yesterday Building Design reported claims contained in another opening statement from bereaved residents and survivors that Studio E signed off design drawings from the façade contractor that did not comply with Building Regulations.
The residents have also claimed: “Procurement goes to the heart of what went wrong. RBKC and KCTMO selected an architectural practice which lacked the requisite experience of overcladding tower blocks, failed to appoint a fire consultant with an obligation to provide a comprehensive fire strategy for the refurbishment, chose Rydon because theirs was the cheapest bid, even though it was unrealistically low, and failed to clarify or monitor the roles of Exova or Studio E post-novation.”
Their statement said “no single element of the cladding system complied with the Building Regulations” and laid responsibility for the dangerous cladding system “with many parties, including Studio E, Harley, Arconic/Alcoa, Celotex, Exova, Rydon, BBA and KCTMO/RBKC”.
The inquiry is expected to continue for 18 months.