GLUSBERG: What do you feel are the basic components necessary for good design?
STIRLING: I think every building must have at least two good ideas. I don’t see the design process as a sudden blinding flash of insight. That might be true for a structure that has one main purpose, like a stadium or an office building; but, in my opinion, it won’t work with a multi-functional building. That, in fact, is what most of the projects in our office tend to be.
GLUSBERG: Then how would you describe your process?
STIRLING: We really try to be careful and conscientious in our analysis. We work in a very linear fashion so that the final design reflects the path of decision-making.
GLUSBERG: You just said that few of your buildings have a simple program: but what about the Science Center in Berlin?
STIRLING: Yes, you’re right. That is an office complex, but it also incorporates an existing Beaux Arts building that was remodeled into several lecture halls. In the office building we had to provide three hundred similar offices for researchers. We were looking for an architectural solution, rather than for a solution to the program which would have been very repetitive. So we created a group of five adjoining buildings surrounding a courtyard. The space between the administration, the sociology and the environment departments, the library, and the archive helped us to overcome the monotony of the program.
Cover of the 1997 Fall issue of COMPETITIONS (left), showing the phase one completion of Erickson's University of British Columbia Library. Photo: Stanley Collyer
Vancouver Civic Center/Robson Squre (right) Photo: courtesy Arthur Erickson
RALPH JOHNSON: I think both are viable. For a young architect, open competitions are great, because they are not going to get invited. It’s a way for young architects to break into a bigger scope of work. It’s an oppor-tunity for someone who doesn’t have the experience in that particular building type to get into a new area.
Shanghai Natural History Museum Photos: courtesy Perkins and Will
An invited competition usually involves some kind of portfolio or resume of the firm’s work, and you usually get selected on experience in that particular building type. In the latter case, you are probably dealing with fairly extensive presentation requirements and a big outlay of money. It often also involves a couple of stages. If the compensation is adequate, which is usually six figures—$100,000-$200,000—it’s great. Most of the time, it’s inadequate. For the recent (Beirut Conference Center) competition, we did in Lebanon, it was $200,000, and that was enough to cover (our) costs. So there are benefits for both types of competitions.
COMPETITIONS: And as a panelist?
RJ: It’s much more difficult to jury the open ones because it takes longer. I was on the Astronaut Memorial jury, and there were over 600 entries. You normally don’t interview the architect; it’s single-stage. It’s more a process of winnowing out inadequate submissions—which is easy to do—and getting down to the ten percent after the first cut. In the case of an invited competition, you have five to ten submissions from very qualified firms. I think it’s good if you can actually interview firms and have a question and answer period. In an open competition, it’s almost inevitable that you wonder who is actually doing the project, how qualified the architect is. It’s hard to keep that out of your mind.
COMPETITIONS: In other words, the presentation isn’t necessarily an indication of the qualifications of the designer?
RJ: I wasn’t on the jury in the case of the Vietnam Memorial, which was a famous competition. There were very sketchy charcoal drawings (by Maya Lin), which really didn’t indicate anything other than conceptual design capabilities. How could you possibly come to any conclusion of technical competence based on those drawings? You really have to read into it and assume a lot in terms of the person. In that case, of course, it was a great success as a non-complex building type. As a laboratory or something else, it’s a different story.
COMPETITIONS: There are a number of anecdotes concerning jurors speculating about the author behind a competition entry—the one in Paris resulting in the Grand Arch is an example. Richard Rogers, a competition juror, supposedly remarked to another juror, Richard Meier, that the author of what eventually turned out to be the winning design, “might be a nobody.” Meier reminded Rogers that, before Pompidou, he was a “nobody.”Read more...Read more...Read more...Read more...Read more...Read more...
JOHN MCASLAN: And how not to do them, I hope.
COMPETITIONS: You're familiar with one of those?
JM: We recently did one—Middlesborough Town Hall. It caused a real furor here.
COMPETITIONS: Usually the RIBA competitions are well organized.
Science Center, Florida Southern College (1996-2001)
JM: This was an open, non-RIBA competition to re-market (rebuild) the Town Hall in Middlesborough, a town which had quite a good artistic tradition. About ten years ago they commissioned Claes Oldenburg to design a sculpture. There was also a competition for a museum there—which we didn't get. And then there was the competition for the Town Hall, where we got to the last six. It was chaotic, as to what was to be submitted. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, because the terms of reference weren't clear. And then there were long delays before the interviews. Finally we were asked to submit a tender(fee bid). But of the six tenders, only four arrived on time. Because of that, the two late tenderers were eliminated. I thought, 'well, you know you have to get them in on time.' But then one of the jurors walked out, because she thought it unfair that these two had been eliminated. Then it came out that they had opened the bids before the interviews took place.
We were only runners-up; but the whole thing has caused chaos because of the sloppiness with which the whole thing was organized. They should have selected the preferred team , then opened the bids.
You asked about the RIBA competitions. We have won some and lost a some. But you can say that they are always immaculately organized—very transparent, no confusion over what is required when. If a competition is badly administered with lots of criticism, it doesn't help at all, especially with funding.
Science Center, Florida Southern College (1996-2001) Lab interior (left) and model (right)
COMPETITIONS: You were recently in the Fresh Kills competition in the U.S.
COMPETITIONS: I assume you attended sessions during both stages of the competition, How long did they last?
Michael Sorkin: I think they were both a couple of days each. At the second session there were presentations by the teams, which were long enough. It was very professionally and equitably organized.
COMPETITIONS: Although the competition brief was only 29 pages, I thought it was one of the best documents of that type I have come across.
MS: It was very succinct and well done. I have been involved with the people who were engaged in the organization of the competition before, and there was a very high level of competence.
COMPETITIONS: As for the jury, was it about the right number?
MS: It was a very congenial group. There was no violence, but there was a good discussion. Everybody was looking for a good outcome, and we did end up picking one of the most visionary schemes submitted. I would say that in terms of the way that the projects progressed from the shortlist to the final presentation, these people (the winner) did an extraordinary job. Theirs was the scheme that was the most thoroughly mature in that process.Read more...