Saturday, January 06, 2007


Background politics

Given the extreme care we have taken with the architectural competition - to select a practice, not a design concept - it was disappointing that one of the people we had involved in the process, and was one of our Technical panel (and paid for his trouble!), chose to complain about it afterwards. It was clear that the fact we had not selected Zaha Hadid had caused some political ripples, and here was someone taking care that no possible blame could attach to him. This is a man who prides himself on speaking his mind, and doing the right thing however unpopular it may be, so it was strange that he chose to complain not to me first (in fact at all) but direct to Mrs Assad's office.

He had a number of opportunities to raise any concerns with me during the process of the competition. As chair of the selection panel, I would have been duty bound to register his concerns at the very least. However, he didn't. At one point the Technical panel presented en bloc the summary of their findings to the Selection panel; he could at that point have offered a minority opinion or stated that he felt the process had not been clear, adequate or objective. He did not do so. He could even, had he felt so strongly about it, have refused a place on the Technical panel or left early. However, he did none of these things.

He complained about the composition of the selection panel. Two of the Panel members were, he suggested, anti-Hadid. What was he suggesting? That we should not have a balance of views on the panel? That we should not shortlist entries on the basis of the selection panellists? That we should exclude panelists who dislike a particular practice? On one basis or another we would either have no entries or no selection panel, or a very boring rubber-stamp job. I think the two members he mentioned would be very angry to hear that they were suspected of not giving all submissions proper consideration. At the very least he could work out that arithmetically there were still five members who might well have an alternative view.

He complained that one of the judges should have been encouraged to enter as a practice. We were all in agreement with this view, and had hoped that this architect would enter. He had been sent the papers, and we know he was interested in submitting an entry. However, he was then told by a Syrian architect, Mr S H, that as his name was down for the judging panel he should not submit, so he did not. Needless to say the judging panel list had not been published and if the architect in question had submitted an entry we would have cheerfully looked for an alternative panellist.

Thankfully, we have had complete support from Mrs Assad, and indeed a lot of praise for the process from the competing architects themselves, all of whom loved Damascus. It was a well-run and highly professional competition.


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