There has been a lot written by architecture critics recently about there being too much bog standard, generic public buildings being built. At the same time there are calls from within public service and from outside for good design and thoughtful, intelligent, forward thinking and creative designers to be recruited to help design a better public service and better public service buildings and infrastructure. I wholeheartedly support these calls and know that if the creative community were allowed to be let loose on a public service that in many cases need some creative TLC that we would all be better off. However there are barriers in the way, that make it impossible for small and most medium size creative companies to win work with the public service. I know from bitter experience that when we receive a bid document from most parts of the public service our hearts sink. There are so many pointless hoops to jump through, so many irrelevant British Standards and qualifications that bidders need. If we spent time jumping through all the hoops we wouldn’t have time to design and earn a living. And don’t get me started on the OJEU and OJEC procurement process!
So who wins the bids? It’s often big, boring multinational practices who have bloomin full time “bid document / pre qualification document filler in departments”. No wonder we get big faceless results that are not rooted in local , “one size fits all” solutions that simply don’t fit what modern British society needs.
It does seem short-sighted to put barriers in the way of ideas but we have been doing it for years. My contemporaries who got established in the early 80s, the likes of Tom Dixon, Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Ron Arad, Nigel Coates et al, started our careers in a time of low regulation, minimal red tape and before the pension funds gobbled up our cities. In thirty years’ time will we have such a successful bunch of designers flying the flag for Britain? Will they have had the “space” and opportunity to flourish?
I challenge government to cut the red tape, open the barriers and embrace a creative future for our public services using Britain’s wonderful and eclectic public services.