Every week around Australia, dozens of projects from state and local governments are released for expressions of interest. Hundreds of consultants in design professions put them on their prospect list, everyone believing that they are best qualified either by design, management or competitive edge. (I will be touching on management in the next issue). It is heartening to see that more and more responsible authorities are choosing on the basis of qualifications and ability before fee tenders, but I am still amazed at the exceptions.
One such case crossed my desk recently, with a local shire requesting services to develop the design of an existing concept. During the course of defining a brief to attract government funding, the shire also attracted not one, but three architects to develop the concept gratis, as well as a quantity surveyor to refine budgets along with the council. Fees budgeted for all consultants were about 4.2% to design and cost a $5 million project. The shire did however commission an artists impression. The ongoing commitment to the consultants was unclear, but it was stated that …other architects could be engaged at any time… I am intrigued as to how government funding can be justified to a project that goes through this loose formulation.
What is significant to us of course is that governments see that architects will work for nothing; it is imperative to be rigorous in avoiding these ill-conceived requests for services, thereby giving the RAIA some credibility in determining suitable procurement methods. It is one of the Institutes most important areas of activity, and practices must help each other by being competitive on the basis of quality, not by charging less than a project demands. The recent acceptance by Jørn Utzon to consult to further work on the Sydney Opera House reminded me of the role that governments have played in initiating the definition of our built environment, and the importance of competitions. While Canberras New Parliament House is a more than worthy comparison, the Opera House still reminds us of the processes that constitute the procurement of significant projects. In 1954, a site selection panel was established, and a competition was organised through UIA by the RAIA, who also selected a jury of four. There were 233 designs from 32 countries in response to a 25 page brief that ultimately required a building that would be the Commonwealths finest Opera House. We all know how the budget went from $9 million in 1956, to over $85 million on completion in 1972.
I am pretty sure that governments have used the Opera House saga as one reason for conducting fewer open competitions based purely on design. It is also true that sound budget formulation and briefing has produced very successful competition results. The evolution of design, construct and alliancing bids sometimes thinly veiled as design competitions, apparently protect government from disparities between brief and budget, but do little for the consortia who outlay enormous sums to tender, and take all the risks.
As I write, the second stage of the Perth Convention Centre bid is about to get under way. Its already cost the consortia millions in total to get knocked out or to proceed to further outlay that will never be retrieved. I will be interested to see whether the Government will ever make public the real procurement cost. Let me know what you think of these issues.
Nigel Shaw FRAIA
RAIA National President