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Adelaide Contemporary design comp fails Architects Institute test

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The Australian Institute of Architects has refused to endorse the first stage of the competition to design the Adelaide Contemporary art gallery, InDaily can reveal.

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A shortlist of six entrants is due to be announced in less than a fortnight.

But the Australian Institute of Architects has written to its members, advising that it had declined to provide formal endorsement for the first stage of the competition because entrants were identified, rather than anonymous.

AIA SA chapter manager Nicolette Di Lernia told InDaily the structure of the competition prevented designs from being assessed exclusively on merit.

“Rather than being assessed on pure merit, there’ll be an assessment on who’s providing it.

“Our policy says there should be an ability to assess on merit alone.

“All entrants should have an equal opportunity.”

She said it appeared that the Government was looking for a “big-name architect” and that the process could not be called a true “design competition” if entrants were identified.

What the Government was calling a “design competition” was really a “registration of interest” process, which would likely advantage big firms over small ones, she argued.

Di Lernia stressed, however, that there were no ethical or probity problems associated with the lack of anonymity, and the Government was within its rights to select a high-profile international architect if it wished.

But prominent South Australian architect Guy Maron, who designed Adelaide’s Bicentennial Conservatory, said no “top architect” in the world – himself included – would bother with the process.

“Competition entries should be anonymous [so] that you are judged on merit … not on the name of the company,” he said.

“What qualified top architect in the world would bother? It’s a nonsense from beginning to end.

“It’s almost like the Premier wants to stand next to the battery man [celebrity billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk].

“It isn’t good for the art gallery.”

He noted that he was the highest-awarded architect in South Australia, and said  he was “deeply disappointed and somewhat angry” that someone of his calibre would be discouraged from entering.

“I’m not going to go against my institute,” he said.

“In all my years here – and I’ve done about 20 competitions – I’ve never seen anything like this happen.”

But Art Gallery of South Australia director Nick Mitzevich told InDaily the competition – being run on behalf of the Government by London firm Malcolm Reading Consultants – was structured in a way that was more respectful to the architectural profession than a traditional design competition.

He said Stage 1 of the competition did not ask for entrants to produce designs, but instead asked them to outline their capacity to do the work, their methodology and their expertise – necessarily preventing entries from being anonymous.

He said designs would be requested only in Stage 2 of the competition – from six shortlisted firms, who would each receive a $90,000 “honorarium” to develop their ideas.

“We’ve taken a more agile, contemporary approach,” said Mitzevich, arguing it was unfair to ask potentially hundreds of architects to produce designs for the building, for free, before selecting a shortlist.

The Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation art museum and cultural centre in Paris is used by Mitzevich as an example of the kind of design we need for the proposed Adelaide Contemporary art gallery. Photo: AP/Jacques Brinon)

He said a small architecture firm would “find it difficult to put a design together without support”.

“Stage 1 needed to ensure that anyone who felt they … could throw their hat in the ring could.”

But Opposition Planning and Infrastructure spokesperson David Pisoni told InDaily the institute’s refusal to endorse Stage 1 was “acutely embarrassing for the Weatherill Government” and that it should never have been run by an overseas firm.

“It appears … that the conditions of the competition are more political than professional,” said Pisoni.

“If they can’t even manage the competition, what hope do they have of managing the redevelopment of that iconic site?”

Mitzevich said more than 200 entries had been received, and the majority had been from Australian firms.

He added that the Government was hoping to receive AIA endorsement for Stages 2 and 3 (announcing the winning architect and the commissioning the final, detailed design), a prospect Di Lernia agreed was likely.

Mitzevich outlined his vision for the art gallery at an Adelaide City Council committee meeting on Tuesday.

He said 4000 contemporary works had already been procured for potential exhibition at the new gallery – which the Government is proposing, but for which it has not yet given final approval.

Mitzevich said the gallery would be surrounded by a sculpture park and that it would provide a platform for exhibition, education and recreation.

He added that the preferred architect would be announced in April 2018.

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