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20 Dec 2004

RIAS Award prize money
From Gordon Murray, President RIAS

Last month’s faintly ridiculous editorial demands some response. Despite a three-year term served in Glasgow, Sudjic’s insular view can be excused, given a total unfamiliarity with any architectural terrain north of the M25. Prospect cannot claim a similar defence. No profession has had to endure such a reality check over the last ten years as has architecture. Long overdue, perhaps, but a sharp cure for any complacency and self-delusion. As I read it, the editorial suggests it is axiomatic that our support for our architecture should be in direct proportion to the quality of our football team. As we are not a country of some 50 million, with one of the wealthiest capitals on the planet, we should not have the temerity to celebrate our achievements in raising the quality of our built environment.
Notwithstanding, that both Dance-Base and An-Turas were deemed important enough to be considered for Stirling and that the earlier Junior School at St Aloysius, also by E+C, narrowly missed short-listing in 1999 in favour of O’Donnell and Tuomey’s Primary School in Ranelagh, I fear Prospect is looking in the wrong direction.

This year the international judge in the RIAS Award panel was Hennu Kjisik, a renowned architect from Helsinki. Finland has a population of 5.2 million, almost identical to Scotland, and as ours, with approx 65 per cent living in urban areas. Helsinki itself is similar to Glasgow at 559k inhabitants. Its GDP per capita is less than 10 per cent greater than our own. It is here, where few have heard of the Stirling Prize, that we could look for some direction. Although Finland has no such award, Kjisik was of the view that our short list would stand positive comparison with the best architecture in Finland. Further they celebrate architecture in a big way.

Every three years there is an exhibition at the Museum of Finnish Architecture (“Finland Builds”) for which a jury chooses about twenty best buildings from the preceding years. It’s considered to be a good thing to get there. They have a very old and well functioning competition system with about 20 open and 30 invitational competitions a year. Prizes are good. For instance, the current one for a new National Maritime Museum has 200.000 euros (£130,000). An enormous extension to the National Science Centre attracted 60 entries, out of which five shared 150.000 euros.

They also have something called an honorary three-year professorship (for those who are not “real” professors at a university) for architects and a membership of the Finnish Academy for one architect at any time. The latter is for life. Both are salaried positions. There is a system of “state scholarships for artists”, where architects are also included. Again you don’t have to do anything extra, just practise your “art” and they pay you a monthly salary on top of what you might earn anyway. Kjisik enjoyed this very pleasant privilege during the year 2000. They even give knighthoods to foreigners for services to architecture. Michael Spens at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee received one in 2001.

The significance being that a dialogue on architectural quality is recognised as important for the development of their society. In three years the RIAS Award has achieved a similar impact.
Taken together with the new Parliament building it has enabled me to witness discussions on architecture in some unusual forums. If this leads to people engaging more in the processes which shape their built environment then it has achieved the objective. Complacency would be us allowing Andy Doolan’s legacy to be the last word in celebrating our architecture and rewarding the achievement of our architects.

Ninewells revisited
From Alan Wightman

In Prospect 106 Mr G. Plenderleith makes comments on Ninewells Hospital. He expressed the view that the method of procurement chosen for the Ninewells project, based on the early appointment of the contractors, is discredited due to resulting cost and time over-runs. The history of Ninewells is interesting. At the time of the invitations to tender there was considerable information on design and construction. The principle of the contract was early collaboration with the selected contractor. The concept of “parallel working” is not unknown and can be successful. Unfortunately, as it turned out on the Ninewells project, the difficulties encountered were mainly due to poorly drafted conditions of contract, and the contractor’s failure to produce a “network programme” prior to a well organised start on site. As a result, early collaboration with contractors became difficult to achieve. Post-tender additions to the project meant the cost of the building increased by 30 per cent. The final word on costs came from a Government Minister, who said, “There have been many changes and additions to the original plans. The increased cost is not through errors of judgement – there is a great deal more value as well as increase in cost.”

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