Surprisingly few church
developments are commissioned through
competitions. Why is this? Almost
all other key civic buildings, such as town
halls, schools, hospitals and social housing,
have a tradition of being commissioned
through competition. Indeed the careers of
many emerging architects are launched by
entering a competition for a civic building.
|A competition jury in action (Photo: Kirsty Anderson)
There are of course, exceptions. Liverpool
Cathedral was the product of a competition run
in 1902, which Sir Giles Gilbert Scott won at the
age of 21 – the original emerging architect. So
too was Sir Basil Spence’s winning scheme for
the new cathedral in Coventry arising around
the devastated ruins of the building destroyed
during the second world war. There are some
notable modest developments too, such as
the new ‘Cellarium’ restaurant at Westminster
Abbey, by architects Panter Hudspith.
Churches are unusual in having their own
planning procedures and either an inspecting
architect or, in the case of the most important,
a surveyor of the fabric. Great committee
structures surround even modest building
work including diocese committees and
fabric committees. The Catholic and Anglican
churches have subtly different ways to engage
with new design work and permissions.
England and Wales’ planning procedures
differ from Scotland’s. And enfolding all of this
are the mechanics and regulations of listed
buildings and ecclesiastical exemption.
This article will try to set a route through
this apparent morass, demonstrating how best to
map out a church’s need – no matter how great
or small – translating this into a comprehensible
brief and selecting the right architectural team
to deliver a new facility, church extension or new
sacred building. A design competition, it will be
argued, is an excellent way to attract new talent
and achieve exemplary results, and is good value.
Let’s assume that you have identified a
statement of need and prepared a brief (of
which more later), and are looking for an
architect. There are three ways of doing this.
The first is to work with someone you know,
perhaps a practice that has been working on
the church for some time, or is known for work
in the region. This isn’t a bad way to find an
architect and many highly successful schemes
have been commissioned in this way. The
benefits are familiarity and dependability, and
for many straightforward projects this approach
has served client and architect well over the
years. The deficiency might be a lack of fresh
ideas and a narrowing of perspective; familiarity
is not the best way to foster innovation.
The second and probably most popular
in an ecclesiastical context, is to ask the
church authority (the diocese in the case of an
Anglican church) who has done good work
elsewhere, and which practice might have the
right set of skills? This type of request might
result in a small competitive interview of a
few firms, the benefit being that these firms
are all likely to have background experience
in church design, conservation issues and
seeking permissions. The mix of skills and
knowledge in these firms is likely to be good
for many standard projects, but the selection
may lack the magic needed for a really
different approach to reuse or regeneration.
The third and by far the most interesting
selection process is to run a competition. This
can be arranged in a number of ways to engage
with emerging talent and smaller practices who
are keen to optimise your brief and budget.
We find this approach can motivate client and
architect to produce something of rare quality
and long-lasting value, often outstripping the
expectations set out in the client’s brief.
Of course, this is not to say that the
first two methods of finding an architect
are out-dated, but the competition process
has unique attributes for those wishing to
innovate and bring ideas from outside.
It is valuable at this stage to look at things
from the architect’s perspective. Many architects
win their first jobs through a competition; some
certainly make their name this way. However,
entering competitions has a big impact on a
small office and clients should recognise this.
There can be only one winner; the runners-up
still have to pay their staff and rent. For this
reason, it is customary to offer a small payment
(or honorarium) to the unsuccessful practices.
Let’s look at how a competition might be
approached for an ecclesiastical building or
The starting point for any alteration of an
existing building is to define what must be done,
taking into consideration the significance of
the building itself. Two statements are required
for the permission or ‘faculty’, one outlining
the significance of the building and the other
outlining the need for the work, and these must
be prepared before a competition can begin.
Many churches already have a statement
of significance (or ‘significance assessment’).
This document briefly summarises the
importance of the building and helps to identify
where changes can/can’t be made. If you
don’t have one, this should be commissioned
from a conservation architect or heritage
consultant. The outcome is a useful resource
for the future, as well as contributing to
any immediate development ideas.
For more important and complex historic
sites, it is helpful to have a conservation
plan prepared by a specialist heritage
consultant. This draws on the information
set out in the statement of significance
and expands it, establishing the relevant
heritage and archaeological factors.
The statement of need, which is specific to
the work proposed, brings together views on
the need for reorganisation or provision of new
facilities. Of course, it is important to get this
right, so it is best prepared in the light of the
statement of significance and, if there is one, the
conservation plan. It should be discussed widely.
These documents form the framework of
the client brief. It is a good idea to have this
reviewed by the relevant church authority. In
the Anglican church the diocesan advisory
committee (DAC) will be able to help and may
even provide some specialist advice at this
stage. The DAC will also advise if you need to
address any specific concerns or seek formal
feedback from governing or expert bodies. At
this stage it is also worthwhile to take the church
authority’s advice on the permissions that
might be required for the work: ecclesiastical
exemption is a complex area and many projects
may require a mixture of formal permissions.
This may seem a long process but it is
essential if you wish the subsequent stages to
DESIGNING THE COMPETITION
So, finally, armed with a brief and endorsement
from the DAC (or other church authority),
you can launch your competition.
Appoint someone to handle the process.
For any major project this should be an external
competition manager, a company or individual
specialising in the organisation of competitions,
and preferably one with architectural
expertise. However, for many smaller projects
the role would suit someone with good
administrative and communication skills.
Deciding on the type of competition is
a key step as this will determine the content
of submissions as well as the timetable. The
old-fashioned way is an open competition
where everyone is invited to enter and a
single winner is chosen. This has fallen out
of favour because it encourages too wide a
divergence of ideas, and a preliminary design
which looks convincing may turn out to
be too expensive or impossible to build.
A two-stage process is much more reliable
and is now widely used for all building types. The
first stage is to invite interest. A shortlist (of say
five) of the most promising applicants is then
selected to go forward to a second stage. During
the second stage, the teams receive the detailed
brief, visit the site and meet key client contacts.
Selecting an architect is part chemistry so
any opportunity to meet and engage in dialogue
helps each side get to know the other. Visits
to completed buildings by architects on the
shortlist can be revealing, especially if you can
meet the client, hear the real story behind the
project and see how the building is performing.
The second stage closes with a submission
by each team. This is normally in the form
of a few presentation drawings, and a report
which provides further information such as the
team members’ CVs, commercial information
(fees and costs for example), and perhaps how
the team intends to manage the project.
||Extract from the winning competition entry for the Cellarium Café, Westminster
Abbey (Image: Panter Hudspith)
The assessment process needs to be managed
carefully – and this is where other professional
friends can be invaluable. Take a good look
at the submissions and compare these to the
original brief: how well do they satisfy the
need? Do they extend the brief or reveal ways
that the brief might be made even better?
Is the design sympathetic or unusual?
Depending on the scale or importance of
the project, a peer review of the submissions
by other professionals may be advisable. The
DAC might offer support for this, or you
may find someone in the congregation who
has a background in the industry. If carried
out objectively a peer review will provide a
good comparison between the schemes being
presented, allowing a balanced analysis of the
technical parameters of each submission.
The final part in the process is the interview
or jury. A good number for the panel is five,
the maximum is seven. A collegiate rather
than a courtroom atmosphere is best, with
jury members selected for their maturity and
clarity of contribution. Remember, you are
trying to make the best match and you may be
working with your selected team for a number
of years. Don’t fill the places with independent
‘experts’; one or two is appropriate, but no more.
The balance should comprise stakeholders,
people with some interest in the project.
Each team presents its concept and is
available for questions. It is advisable to set
aside a day for this: try to see everyone on the
same day with the same jury membership.
Allow 15 minutes of presentation, followed
by half an hour of close question and debate.
The jury can usefully discuss the outgoing
team before seeing the next, with a sumup
discussion at the end of the day.
Having read this far, some might feel
overwhelmed by the process so it is worth
a reminder of the wider benefits to the
competition process. Most obviously, it is fair
and meritorious. The use of open days and
exhibitions of the submissions can involve
the congregation and supporters. And it is
a great way to interest potential funders.
Most importantly, the competition entries
will demonstrate different ways to approach
the brief and reveal to the client team the value
of different professional collaborators. There
may be a place for an artist, a craftsperson or
furniture maker – each or all of these skills
can be added to the mix in a competition.
A word of advice: architects are generally
delighted to be invited to enter a competition
but it must be remembered that an architectural
practice is a business. The investment in
entering a competition is considerable and
there is no guarantee of success. Some see
it is a valid marketing exercise; some value
the benefit of a ‘real’ project to help develop
skills. Without exception, it is vital to organise
and manage the competition process with
transparency and to stick to any commitments
made about deadlines, information provided
to competitors and selection criteria.
Where can one turn for information?
The church authority or regional DAC is
a good starting point as they may be able
to report on how others have gone about
arranging competitions. The regional office
of the RIBA is also a useful resource as
they will have information on the practices
working locally who have relevant experience,
but may charge a fee for this service.
Alternatively, for comprehensive assistance
throughout the process, consider engaging
the services of a competition manager.
Do consider a competition if you are
thinking about building. A competition
brings energy and innovation as well as a
process that provides the ‘best fit’ of team and
client. The discarded entries are not wasted
as these provide an insight into the brief.
The effort is worthwhile – and great fun!