WAN Business Information: Procurement

Monday 18 Feb 2013

The Problems with Procurement

In her opening speech at last October’s RIBA Stirling prize, Angela Brady (RIBA President) said that “Procurement is the bane of our lives…”

I connected with this as I recalled working for 10 years in practice and having to deal with various frustrating procurement methods. But the UK is not alone in causing architects frustration through procurement. As WAN’s Business Information Manager, over the past 2 years I have been in a prime position to monitor the industry’s global market trends and gain insight and intelligence about winning work in different countries. Some of my findings from my ongoing research can be found below.


We spoke with Stanley Collyer PhD who as many of our readers will know has for years headed up the Competitions.org website. The focus for the site is to research and report on global design competitions. Collyer’s work has gained him international recognition as an expert on design competitions. He and his writers delve deeply into the most important global competitions happening each year with an eye toward reporting on the competition process itself, thus revealing when things go well, when they don’t and why...as well as offering ‘should have could have’ advice that architects who enter competitions desperately want to hear...we will hear directly from Stanley in a separate piece.

Competitions are a good way for younger architects/smaller practices to win work and or publicity for their efforts. “Competitions are very popular especially with emerging architects who see them as an opportunity to get respectable commission with good ideas and little experience,” explains Sharon Mchugh.

Sharon is an architect, planner and design educator. Based in Princeton, N.J. and New York

Standard Forms

These are quite often not ‘standard’. Architects from around the world have said that standard forms vary frustratingly between region/state and council.

“The main problem with the US system is to do with the state-to-state variation and that for public projects (Schools, Government buildings, etc) there tends to be quite a bit of difference with the standard forms (they may claim that they're standard but they are usually tweaked by the state). There are also lots of particulars that seem to be more about checking boxes and due diligence rather than actually presenting the services you offer.” Architect, USA, Anonymous

In a survey last year conducted by a UK architectural publication, the OJEU system was described as an arduous, time consuming, box ticking exercise that discriminates against small and medium sized practices. As a European standard system, things may need to be changed so that architects can invest their time and money in this system with more confidence.


Deadlines can be short. We find this especially for Chinese projects but we have direct access to the Chinese issuing agencies and this is standard practice. There is a common idea within the industry that deadlines are short because the advertising agency has already chosen the architect and is advertising as a formality and legality. We have had cases confirmed that our subscribers have won Chinese projects through our service, despite the short deadlines and we have published a number of ‘Winning with WAN’ projects and newsletters.

Invited competition

“Currently in India, this is what is happening as there is no clear directive by which interested international practices can abide by. For certain large scale and public projects (government banks, infrastructure etc) it is clearly indicated who can bid: practices that have an Indian establishment. In some cases, the project is thrown open publicly but most of the times projects are procured in a covert, invitation only basis.” Pallavi Shrivastava.

Pallavi is an architectural designer and is Country Manager for a Singapore Design Consultancy firm whilst pursuing her academic research interest on sustainable and equitable urban development. She is an Evidence Based Design Accreditation Certified (EDAC) and is also an USGBC LEED Green Associate

Physical presence

Despite the ‘modern’ legalities and standard codes of procurement, certain countries and regions still prefer to do business in person.

However: “There is increased pressure from council of architecture in India to dissuade foreign practices to set up shop here as Indian architects are feeling insecure and threatened. I do not know where it is headed.” Architect, India, Anonymous

There are many sources that we use for our MENA projects but we would emphasise that presence in the area/particular city is paramount for doing business. This has been proved frequently. English is widely spoken in business in the MENA region but in China, it is advised to use a local interpreter to really gain an insight and an understanding of local trends and practices. Understanding the culture and history of an area/region or country is also paramount for successful business partnerships.

Consortium bids/partnering

Many countries will insist on a local/domestic company obtaining the formal building permits but strive for internationally renowned practices to carry out design work.

“One model that is quite popular currently right now is international design firms bidding for design development and design concept phase and partner with local team to implement projects. So you will always see international architects in partnership with a local and project architect.” Pallavi Shrivastava

Projects being withdrawn/cancelled

George Square, Glasgow, UK has been in the UK press recently since its OJEU competition was won by John McAslan and then withdrawn by Glasgow City Council. Maybe alarm bells should have rung when they re-issued the original notice? The situation rumbles on and due to legalities we will not be publishing anything specific about this until a resolution is found.

The UK is not alone in suffering this: “There have been many such instances in the past where projects have been withdrawn after the architects have been awarded them.” Architect, India, Anonymous

Despite the underlying tone of this article, it is not intended to be a negative piece, more to encourage our global readership that they are not alone in their frustrations about winning work. The WAN Business Information service is on the face of it, a project leads service but behind the scenes we do more to develop an informed level of intelligence and global knowledge about winning work. We are constantly researching the global market to highlight trends and common factors within the industry so that we may best help inform our subscribers.

We would like to hear your comments and thoughts on this piece and about your experiences and your ideas about how procurement can be improved, please email me at caroline.stephens@wantoday.com.

Caroline Stephens
WAN Business Information Manager

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