Danish architects ‘misled’ on George Square contest

A CGI drawing of how George Square might have looked had the competition materialised. Picture: Contributed
A CGI drawing of how George Square might have looked had the competition materialised. Picture: Contributed
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A LEADING global architecture firm originally shortlisted for the now-abandoned George Square project in Glasgow pulled out before the shortlist was announced amid claims of poor management of the project by the council.

Danish practice Bjarke Ingels Group (Big) was one of a number of firms that wrote letters to Glasgow City Council to complain about how the competition was run, according to letters obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Building Design Magazine and seen by The Scotsman.

The £15 million project, which would have seen the square in the heart of Glasgow city centre totally revamped, was scrapped in the face of widespread public opposition in January.

Speaking at the long-awaited announcement of the competition’s result, the council confirmed that it had chosen a winner – John McAslan & Partners – but said it would not be proceeding with the contract.

Revised plans will see a new grey surface replace the current red tarmac, while the present grass areas will be expanded and all 13 statues kept in place, all at a cost of just £500,000.

The design competition attracted 35 entries from around the globe, including practices in Australia, the United States and Sweden. Big was shortlisted for the competition, but quit amid claims that the goalposts had been moved halfway through the submission process.

Letters between the council and Big revealed that the practice objected when the terms of the type of tender were switched from a “invitation to tender” to a design contest.

Big partner Kai-Uwe Bergmann wrote: “It’s with deep regret I have to inform you we are unable to participate in the contest any further. When we initially reviewed this opportunity and submission requirements it was never stated the contract would be awarded via a design contest. If we had known from the outset that Glasgow City Council intended to award the contract via a design contest we may never have expressed our interest.”

He added: “We would very much have liked to participate in the process as it was originally billed.”

Mary Bowman, a partner at Gustafson Porter architects also wrote to the council two weeks after the shortlist was announced complaining that the company still had not received vital documents and asking for an extension that would allow staff to take Christmas breaks.

“The fact that we have received the 2D information very late… has already resulted in serious delays,” she wrote.

“We would also like our staff and our subconsultants to enjoy the festive period and spend some time with their families.”

The council wrote back, promising the information “in the next few days”.

“This process was problematic from its earliest stages,” said Neil Baxter, spokesman for the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, which two weeks ago handed a report to the Audit Commission, asking them to review the process.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “The council did not change its approach. It was always going to be a design contest, but the original advert we issued wasn’t explicit.

“We therefore issued a clarification about this on 25 September and extended the deadline”