Surprises in Shortlist for Oxford Cambridge Connection Competition

Infrastructure Intelligence

Most interesting is who wasn’t on.  But it was judged blind of names and that always produces surprises.  Indeed that the whole point to judge on merit not authority.  Expected names might have been AECOM, Arup,  Adams, Tibbalds (got through), Atkins, DLA probably as greatest knowledge of area but with David Lock advising NIC on competition no way could they have entered.   No Urbed (a real surprise) and no Wei Yang (even more so) .  No telling who entered and who dint though.  I have no skin in the game didnt enter.

Barton Willmore – no great fan of their urban design but their planning work is solid and their Wolfson prize entry very solid.

Mae – rising reputation and masters of the superblock, but outside London and on a larger scale? Unproven, interesting to see what they come up with.

Fletcher Priest, cosmopolitan and creative, but where is their portfolio of masterplans on a streets, district and settlement scale?

Remember this isn’t or shouldn’t solely be an architectural competition.  Though the focus on typologies may have led the teams down a certain path.  Wrong term – what the brief discussed was topologies (network position) not typologies  (building form) as urban designers and planners understand it, a strategic plan is the spatial combination of typology and topology suited to context – not the repetition of an ideal type typology.  I know from my own analysis there is no single typology that will or can work across this whole region, its horses for courses needing bespoke city region by city region thinking. That was the great mistake of the Athens Charter modernists –  a single typological solution everywhere.

Architecture and urban design is a big part of it but the design scale is larger and the focus interdisciplinary.  We need to be wary of falling into the Wem Koolhaus or Ricardo Bofill high modernist trap of conceiving place making as ‘big architecture’ at a landscape scale.

NIC  are talking to lots of stakeholders about many issues, So I am hopeful.  They listen and know the right questions.  The competition is the beginning not the end of a strategy that will be years in making and decades in delivery.

Worries – hardly any transport experts on teams, no economists, no infra and viability specialists, no housing experts.  The competition brief had a different focus in terms of the questions it asked, although asking for broad based teams,

Design focus is great – however this is regional big picture stuff about a broad brush strategy – linking up project management, urban design, strategic planning,  transport and delivery.  The teams seem very imbalanced to me,  note imbalanced doesn’t mean not high powered and excellent designers.  But they are the teams you would put together for a small urban extension, not 1 million plus homes.   1 million plus homes can only work with a radical and through approach to how people get from new communities to places of work and how that will be paid for and prioritised.  They now have 10k each though to focus on the bigger picture broaden the teams and road test their ideas.  Spend it well.

The National Infrastructure Commission and Malcolm Reading Consultants  has announced the shortlist for The Cambridge to Oxford Connection: Ideas Competition. The two-stage competition will now see four multidisciplinary teams develop detailed concepts appropriate for the Cambridge -Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor.

The competition launched on 30 June 2017 and invited entries from broad multidisciplinary teams made up of urban designers; architects; planning, policy and community specialists; landscape designers; development economists; and others with local knowledge and general insight. 58 teams from the UK and further afield entered at the first stage, anonymously submitting emerging concepts focused on a chosen form of development – ranging from the intensification of existing urban areas to new autonomous settlements – along with separate details on the composition of their team.

The high-profile jury of thought-leaders in infrastructure, economics, design and placemaking, chaired by Bridget Rosewell (commissioner for the National Infrastructure Commission), judged the emerging concepts and team composition and selected a shortlist.

The four shortlisted teams – all UK-based – feature creative, multidisciplinary collaborations and a mixture of established practices and emerging talent. The shortlisted teams were led by the following practices (in alphabetical order). Full details of the teams are listed at the end of this article.

  • Barton Willmore
  • Fletcher Priest Architects
  • Mae
  • Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design

The shortlisted teams will each receive an honorarium of £10,000 to develop their initial first-stage submissions into design concepts for development typologies appropriate to the corridor. They will be asked to consider existing, planned or proposed infrastructure and how to integrate this with development to create sustainable and liveable places.

The competition jury will meet again in October to review the second-stage submissions, interview the shortlist and select a winner of the competition. The winner is expected to be announced in early November.

Bridget Rosewell, commissioner for the National Infrastructure Commission and competition jury chair, said: “The commission and the jury were delighted with the quality and detail of submissions to the competition and we would like to thank all those who offered their ideas and energies. The shortlisted teams produced particularly imaginative and stimulating responses to the first-stage brief and we look forward to seeing how their ideas and visions develop.

“At the second stage, we will be looking for proposals that are rooted in their context and understand the local character, environment and landscape. We have asked competitors to consider how places will be integrated with infrastructure, but above all, we want to see what the proposals will mean for the lives of the people living and working in the corridor.”

The Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor stretches over approximately 130 miles around the north and west of London’s green belt, encompassing Daventry and Wellingborough to the north and bounded to the south by Luton, Stevenage and the Aylesbury Vale. The region is home to 3.3 million people and hosts some of the country’s most successful cities, as well as world-leading universities, knowledge-intensive high-tech firms and highly-skilled workers. Altogether, an estimated 419,000 people across the corridor are employed in the knowledge economy.

Currently, the corridor does not function as a single joined-up economic zone. Rather Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Oxford operate as distinct city economies, each positioned on different radial routes around 50-70 miles from London. The area is experiencing significant housing and transport pressures particularly the scarcity of suitable and affordable homes and difficulties in travelling within and between cities. These constraints are becoming obstacles to attracting and retaining talent and inevitably putting a break on economic growth.

Full details of the shortlisted teams are listed below.

Barton Willmore – Robin Shepherd (Planning Partner); John Haxworth (Partner); Dominic Scott (Urban Design Partner); Gareth Wilson (Planning Partner); Michael Knott (Planning Director); Ben Lewis (Infrastructure Director); Peter Newton (Architecture Director); Carolyn Organ (Planning Associate); Vaughan Anderson (Urban Design Associate); Patrick Clarke (Associate Landscape Planner); Richard Webb (Associate Landscape Architect); Simone Gobber (Urban Designer); and Tom Carpen (Infrastructure Associate) – with Will Durden (Director, Momentum)

Fletcher Priest Architects – with Bradley Murphy Design and Ron Henry (Partner, Peter Brett Associates)

Mae – with One Works, AKT II and Planit-IE

Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design – Jennifer Ross (Director) – with Annalie Riche (Co-Director, Mikhail Riches), Petra Marko (Co-Founder and Director, Marko&Placemakers), Sarah Featherstone (Co-Director, Featherstone Young) and Kay Hughes.

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