While the architectural circles in Bulgaria are in tense expectation the new/old architectural competition for St Nedelya Square in Sofia (which was put on hold to be re-launched ‘in about a month’), and the Chamber of Architects is holding the firm stance that architecture cannot be measured in kilograms (or turnover, or area, or staff), one architectural competition jury proved that it actually can.
Last week, on 17th October 2018 was published the Report of the Jury of the Competition for a New Urban Centre in Veliko Tarnovo. The first reading of these 161 pages (157 in the English version) left us disappointed. The second shattered us. The third seriously scandalised us.
We have taken part in many architectural competitions. We realise the positive and the not so positive sides of such enterprises. Those have been discussed, analysed and mulled over. That is why (though probably one could say we are biased) we will not ponder but just put forward three eye-catching facts, share a concrete case, and ask some questions. We will leave the answers to you.
Long story short. The project proposals for the new urban centre of Veliko Tarnovo on the site of the former military school had to include: (1) urbanistic solution (concept) for the territory, and (2) design of an exposition centre. Two projects on two panels. It is important to point out the explicit directive that the urbanistic solution shall be only a reference for other urban designers who, in some future moment, will develop a new detailed master plan of the territory. (‘Based on the designs selected in the competition, the following actions will be taken: Update of the Veliko Tarnovo Urban plan on the basis of the best concepts for the developing the territory into a NUC’).
FACT 1. There are 62 submitted and received in time entries for the New Urban Centre of Veliko Tarnovo competition. Thirty-seven of them (or nearly 60%) have not been evaluated by the jury. They were not assessed because (according to the jury) they had not met the conditions of the open competition procedure. Isn’t this percentage too high? Is it possible such a large number of teams to make such great mistakes that the jury would not even view their entries and evaluate them?
FACT 2. Thirty-two of the unassessed entries (or nearly 52% of all submitted works) did not even reach the evaluation phase and considered against the assessment criteria based on art. 107, it.2 of the Public Procurements Act, i.e. the participant’s offer did not comply with the pre-announced public procurement conditions. Here we have to assume that architectural projects are offers, and the described in the programme necessary graphic and text information – a pre-announced condition.
The picture with the aforementioned conditions (more descriptive and detailed) is as follows.
Board 1: master plan (concept) for the territory
- Transport and communication plan in scale 1:5000 or 1:10000.
- Fragments of the plan in scale 1:2000.
- Explanatory text, clarifying the author’s idea.
B. GENERAL PLAN
- General plan of the territory in scale 1:2000.
- Fragments of the plan or drawings, clarifying the ideas for improvement and landscaping of the territory, and showing the organization of the pedestrian, bicycle, vehicle and other flows.
- Explanatory text, clarifying the author’s idea.
C. DIMENSIONAL AND SPATIAL PROPOSAL
- Dimensional proposal presented by means of silhouettes, perspective or isometric views of an appropriate size, computer or manually generated composite images and photos of scale models.
- General plan in scale 1:2000 + text.
- Communication plan in scale 1:5000 or 1:10000 + text.
- Communication plan fragment 1:2000.
- General plan fragment or schemes.
- Volumetric solution – axonometric perspective or plans.
Board 2: design of an expo centre building
- Situation of the building in the land plot in scale 1:1000, including the adjacent streets, open square spaces and the neighbouring land plots with existing and new buildings (according to the proposed concept of a general plan of the new city centre).
- Explanatory text, clarifying the architectural and structural proposals, including detailed description of the building, its functional representation, the planned installations and the materials used in the exterior and interior on the building.
- Sketches, drawings, etc., illustrating the dimensional and spatial proposal.
B. PLANS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE FUNCTIONAL PROPOSALS
- Plans, sections and façades of the building in scale 1:200.
- Drawings, sketches, axonometric projections, etc., illustrating the functional and structural proposals
C. EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR VISUALIZATIONS
- 3D exterior and interior visualizations of the building, demonstrating its integration in the context of the urban environment.
- 3D visualizations, drawings or sketches of selected fragments, indicating the proposed materials, surfaces, colour schemes.
- Situation 1:1000.
- Explanatory text.
- Plans and schemes clarifying the volumetric-spatial solution.
- Plans, sections, and facades in scale 1:200.
- Schemes, plans, axonometric and other clarifying functions and constructions.
- 3D exterior and interior building visualizations.
- 3D visualizations clarifying materials, surfaces and colour solutions.
If some material out of the items in the right column is missing – the jury will not assess your entry. We understand that the lack of a ‘Communication plan fragment 1:2000’ equals urbanistic and architectural project of poor quality. Such is our case – we admit that there is no title of precisely such a fragment on Board 1. But we have all communications in the General Plan in scale 1:2000 duly drawn and we have a cross-section in scale 1:500 through all main streets with all dimensions needed. This is how we made our ideas for the transport and communication more concrete (not to mention the five schemes in scale 1:10000 – after the requirements). Why, again on our Board 1, was found missing a ‘volumetric solution – axonometric perspective or plans’, is mystery to us. Our concept for the development of the territory lays on six interconnected strategies emerging from the genetic code of the place. One of these strategies views in detail (with axonometric sketches and text) the morphology of the volumes and spaces. There are also four perspective images – computer-generated and collaged. On Board 2 our creative ideas for informative materials representing our architectural idea somehow managed to tick all the boxes. Nevertheless, the whole project had already gone in the heap of entries not worthy of assessment. For the curious – the number of our entry is 6900. In the official website of the competition, though, no one bothered to indicate the unassessed entries.
Before summing up, here are some more examples from the Report. If ‘plans and schemes clarifying the volumetric-spatial solution’ of the building are missing – the entire project proposal is not assessed. It is the same if ‘general plan fragment or schemes’ or ‘3D visualizations clarifying materials, surfaces and color solutions’ are missing. It is different for each of those disregarded entries. We are sure that each team has something more to say in order to make their ideas clearer. What is common is that we all “miss” one, two, or three graphic (or text) materials. Is it possible that a design proposal of high quality existed beyond the presence of some graphic materials? Is it possible, after all, the present graphic and text materials (if of course one looked at them as a whole) to give solutions to the needs defined by the competition programme? Is it possible, just because some graphics were not present, that working urbanistic and architectural ideas had been missed?
FACT 3. Five of the unassessed entries (or 8% of all entries) were rejected because, after a ‘review’, they were found contradictory to the competition programme. For instance, there were no division options for the Large Hall, the ownership of the properties has not been taken into account, or the planned construction did not comply as a method of construction in a new town centre. Again, the jury ‘unanimously’ decided to deny assessment to the whole entry. Weren’t architectural competitions (as a rule) meant to look for ideas that go beyond the expected?
At the end – some more questions. Is it moral not to respect the labour of all participants? Is it professional to measure “in kilograms” (or schemes, perspectives, sketches, fragments) when it comes to architectural creativity and (as we first thought) evaluation of urbanistic and architectural qualities? Is a competition, in which the qualities of 60% of the entries were not assessed at all, a serious one? How could we, architects, expect our work to be respected, when, alas, we do not respect it ourselves?
Human decisions are made by real people. The jury here is not a faceless group – its members are without question good professionals (all architects), perhaps all of them have taken part in many competitions, probably all of them have assessed many projects as well. That is why we fail to comprehend how Georgi Stanishev, Andrea D’Antrassi, Andrey Chernikhov, Helle Juul, Dominique Rouillard, Andrew Yeomen, Yuriy Lyubomirski, Nikolay Malakov and Lora Bachvarova took the decision to disregard more than half of the entries and practically make fun with the labour of dozens of architects. We hope they realise the consequences of this decision. We wish them what happened to 37 teams in this competition never to happen to them.
P.S. Only for the curious. According to the jury, entries 2084, 5499, 5167, 4810, 6900, 9634, 6272, 5980, 5954, 3780, 2513, 9568, 9204, 8162 are missing ‘volumetric solution – axonometric perspective or plans’. Take a look if you have some spare time.
 For information: PPA, Art. 107. Apart from the grounds under Arts. 54 and 55, the assignor shall remove from the procedure: …2.2. a participant, who has presented an offer, which does not comply with: a) pre-announced conditions of the procurement…