05 September 2012

Kruunusillat contest to restart

After a delay of a year, Helsinki's Kruunusillat bridge design competition is finally to move forward.

Following submission and evaluation of prequalifications, the contest ground to a halt last year when one entrant, Leonhardt, Andrä und Partner, decided to challenge the evaluations in court. Now, the Finnish commercial court has rejected that challenge, and the scheme can again move ahead. No date has yet been set for the restart, nor have the chosen ten competitors been officially announced.

However, I've seen the prequalification evaluation report, and here are the ten teams I expect to be taking part in this competition:
  • WSP Finland / Knight Architects
  • Arup / UNStudio
  • Carlos Fernández Casado
  • Pontek Oy
  • Knippers Helbig / Zwarts and Jansma
  • Apia XXI / Batlle and Roig
  • Schüssler-Plan Ingenieurgesellschaft / Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes
  • Setec TPI / RFR
  • Roughan O'Donovan / Michel Virlogeux / Dumetier Design
  • Arup / Amanda Levete Architects
There are some well-known names in there, as well as several that were previously unknown to me. I would say they are all quite capable of producing a fine design for a 1km long light rail viaduct, which is the central substance of the design competition.

However, there were a number of very big names who failed in prequalifying. As well as Leonhardt, these include the likes of Zaha Hadid Architects, Gehry Partners, Studio Daniel Libeskind, Ramboll, Rosales & Partners, Marc Mimram, Aecom, Flint and Neill, Schlaich Bergermann und Partner, Ney & Partners, Buro Happold, and many more. Several of these are clearly as competent as the firms which did prequalify, if not considerably more so in some cases. It's also clear that this was a very attractive project for some major designers, no doubt helped by the payments available to competitors, which are generous by comparison with many other bridge design competitions.

The evaluation process was based almost entirely on participants' prior experience of projects similar to the Kruunusillat scheme. That would seem to offer little scope for the ambitious and talented, but if a client judges that a safe pair of hands is what's important, then that is their choice.

What was notably more peculiar was their insistence that the projects submitted to demonstrate experience had to be on the personal CV of the lead structural and architectural designers. I find that quite bizarre given the way that most designers operate as teams. Will the success or failure of Kruunusillat's chosen design really depend on the prior experience of figureheads? I find that absurd.

If this were not bad enough, the actual prequalification evaluation process looks quite comical when seen from outside. One of the failed entrants, a structural designer respected worldwide for their landmark bridge expertise, was judged as follows (scoring a miserly 65 marks out of a possible 200 for structural engineering):
"Structural designer who has solved the problems conventionally. The overall structural engineering impression of the references is ordinary. However, the references lack broad projects with overall responsibility for planning."
Two very well-known, very large international consulting engineers, both with an excellent track record in bridge design, secured only 20 marks out of 200 in the same category.

Another entrant, a world-famous architect, scored 80 out of a possible 100 for bridge aesthetics, despite securing these comments:
"Very few bridges or infrastructure projects presented. It is hard to judge if the applicant would have anything to offer in the bridge design even if the building projects are interesting with highly expressive forms. This kind of design approach would probably not suit at all to bridge design where special care has to be given to integrate the structures to the aesthetic design. Moreover the applicant's contrasting attitude to the surroundings in the very valuable competition area probably wouldn't lead up to good results. Why did not the applicant join forces with somebody else having the required bridge references?"
I could easily offer many similar examples here, but you get the point. The evaluation was, at best, highly subjective, and at worst, crassly incompetent. I am sure those taking part will provide some excellent designs, but there is more than one consultant who should feel aggrieved at how the scheme's design procurement has been handled so far.

Leonhardt's submission to the Finnish court raised much the same issues. They contended that the numerical marking and verbal assessment were inconsistent; that the marking for other contestants was so inconsistent as to indicate a lack of objectivity; and that the criterion eventually used for scoring had not been properly set out in advance in the City of Helsinki's invitation to prequalify. The court's decision can be found online.


Henry said...

I had a good laugh at some of the comments you mentioned.

Like you, I'm quite surprised at some of the entrants who failed to pre-qualify, in particular Buro Happold who have made some lovely unconventional bridges in the past (disclosure: i do not work for Buro Happold)

I don't think the C.V. element was a particularly bad thing, based on the budget (and their probable desire to keep within that order).

I fondly recall that C4 Castlefords Bridge documentary which you recommended some years back where a greenhorn was selected over a reputable opponent. I would give some other examples, but as a rather inexperienced graduate I don't want to say anything too stupid!

P.S. Please do a design competition debris post on the Castlemead footbridge competition. http://www.istructe.org/news-articles/2012/regions/castlemeads-footbridge-design-competition-winn-(1).

I was interested in submitting a design initially, but I read enough of your posts to explain the bleak realities of these kinds of competitions, and I think this one was no different really. Thanks for the lovely posts over the years.

Anonymous said...

For some teams the prequalification seems to be unfair but I believe that the unconvential selection gives chances to other teams as usually and will end up in other (better) designs than usually.
For an ambitious project and an ambitios city like Helsinki I would not want to see another LAP or Schlaich bridge which are quite ordinary in most cases...

Please keep us updated on this great competition!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this interesting post.
I think the transparency in the competition screening is to praise. Whether or not the score matched the reviews I would not know. Certainly I would not consider surprising that an office such as Zaha Hadid's did not qualify. It is actually more surprising that Amada Levete did qualify!
Please, keep us posted on the competition.

Anonymous said...

World’s best bridge designers building bridges for Helsinki
20.02.2013 15:42
The eleven entries for the international bridge design competition Kruunusillat (Crown Bridges) are on display and available for public comment at an exhibition in Helsinki and on the Internet. The jury will select the winner during spring 2013.

Helsinki launched the competition in 2011 by inviting the participation of multi-field teams from around the world. More than fifty teams applied and ten were selected for the actual competition phase.

If implemented, the bridge connection for trams and pedestrians and cyclists would be the longest in Finland, at approximately three kilometres. The connection, composed of two or more bridges, would link the future maritime Kruunuvuorenranta district to Helsinki city centre.

Helsinki seeks to promote sustainable methods, such as rail traffic, and simultaneously to improve the service level of public transport. The bridge alternative contributes to achieving these goals.

Maritime Helsinki is classified as one of Finland’s 27 national landscapes. For this extremely demanding environment, with its important landscape and cultural-historical values, the international bridge competition aims at finding the best solution, worthy of being left as a heritage for future generations.

There are numerous nationally valuable cultural environments in the vicinity of the bridges, the most important of which include the Suomenlinna sea fortress complex dating from the 1750s, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

See the competition works on the Internet

The competition is a part of the World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 programme.

The competition entries were submitted under pseudonyms. The team with the pseudonym is only revealed when the winner is selected.

Around 50 international teams from all over the world applied for the international Kruunusillat bridge design competition. The applicants were from Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The competition is part of the design capital programme.

Ten teams are participating in the competition. The teams are led by the following companies (in alphabetical order):

Apia XXI S.A., Spain
Head designer, bridge design: Oscar Ramon Ramos Gutierrez
Head architect: Joan Roig i Duran

Arup, the Netherlands
Head designer, bridge design: Sander den Blanken
Head architect: Ben van Berkel

Carlos Fernández Casado, S.L., Spain
Head designer, bridge design: Javier Muñoz-Rojas
Head architect: Javier Manterola

Pontek Consulting Engineers Ltd, Finland
Head designer, bridge design: Juhani Hyvönen
Head architect: Hanna Hyvönen

Knippers Helbig GmbH, Germany
Head designer, bridge design: Thorsten Helbig
Head architect: Rob Torsing (Partner/Architect - Zwarts & Jansma Architects)

Ove Arup & Partners International Ltd, United Kingdom
Head designer, bridge design: Ed Clark
Head architect: Amanda Levete

Roughan & O'Donovan, Ireland
Head designer, bridge design: Tony Dempsey
Head architect: Bruno Dumetier

Schüssler-Plan Ingenieurgesellschaft Berlin, Germany
Head designer, bridge design: Wolfgang Strobl
Head architect: Dietmar Feichtinger

Setec tpi, France
Head designer, bridge design: Hamida Larbi-Rezig
Head architect: Jean François Blassel

WSP Finland, Finland
Head designer, bridge design: Pekka Pulkkinen
Head architect: Martin Knight