Proposals by Isis for canalside development in Brentford received good coverage in AJ and BD this week. I was a member of the panel that reviewed competing schemes for the first phase of development, designed by three teams each made up of three architectural practices.
We had an interesting day and saw some good projects. Isis find themselves in the happy position of being able to choose between competing schemes of good quality, as a result of having chosen decent firms in the first place.
This is how procurement should work. Set a high quality threshold, and let in only those architects who are likely to give you a good building. A client should then be able, if they wish, to chose the cheapest amongst competing schemes - as opposed to the more usual choice in public sector procurement, between a cheap scheme and a good one - a situation that has predictable results.
Getting a good building is not easy, but it's not as hard as some people seem to make it. Write a good brief and then get a good architect. CABE were making this simple point to the Government all through the boom years of PFI, but with little success, and the landscape is now littered with tacky public buildings as a result (there are a few good ones too).
There has also been recent press coverage of criticism of the 'box ticking' procurement culture that is the prime cause of the poor outcomes referred to. The problem is still widespread. Clients like Isis seem to be light enough on their feet to avoid it - not a slapdash approach or one that ignores due diligence, but the application of intelligence to the task at hand, focused on a high quality built outcome - rather than on pleasingly completed spreadsheets.