A town hall, cultural infrastructure, a school, a housing estate, a care institution, a bridge, a green or urban landscape: they have to be created, the budget is available, but how do you find a designer with whom you can hold a dialogue about the project? In 2000, the Vlaams Bouwmeester developed the Open Call procedure to help public principals select designers for assignments in the areas of architecture, urban planning, landscape design, public space and infrastructure. The government projects for which designers are sought by means of the Open Call are grouped together and published twice a year Europe-wide. Architects and designers in Belgium and abroad are requested to apply for one or more projects.
The Open Call still remains a unique and innovative way of selecting and negotiating. The drafting of the project definition, which is then transformed into a draft design by not one but several design teams, and the discussion that ensues, help the public principal to make a considered choice of the designer it prefers. The Open Call is a means of working steadily on a visionary building culture in which building is a full social resource, not an aim in itself, nor simply a way of quickly mitigating a need. In concrete terms, the Open Call generates a clear added value on a number of crucial points.
Sound and visionary public principalship
A public principal bears a particular cultural responsibility because it builds with an eye to its social task. It has a mission and a vision and implements them partly by the way it builds. More and more principals are realising that a building assignment is more than simply fulfilling spatial and housing needs. As public bodies, they want their building project to help them be useful, recognisable and accessible. For this reason, before it starts building an exemplary principal formulates its aims and expectations in a project definition. For the principal, this document is the framework on which to make a visionary choice after viewing the designers’ presentation of their projects.
Research by design and variety
The Open Call allows designers to put their vision and approach to a specific building assignment into concrete form by means of an initial sketched impression. In this regard it is important that the designers try to visualise the project definition. In this way the design is not a matter of ‘take it or leave it’, but a visual study that enables the principal to react and adjust. In this way the principal is positively challenged by the various design proposals. This contributes to the formation of a building culture.
Cooperation by principal and designer
Intensive cooperation with the designer ultimately selected is of crucial importance in reaching a socially balanced result. The Open Call gives the principal the opportunity to enter into dialogue with the designers regarding the spatial concepts and the designs drawn up, and to test the readiness of the design team to engage in the process.
Following up the process
The Open Call is an intensive and instructive process for all parties. When the cooperative agreement with the Vlaams Bouwmeester is concluded, the team undertakes to appoint a project director who will supervise the process from beginning to end. He helps ensure that the project is developed consistently on the basis of the project definition and the designer’s vision.
For each Open Call project, the Vlaams Bouwmeester suggests an independent expert to the principal, one who is chosen for his specific expertise in relation to the project. This expert is initially an external member of the jury and then acts as an advisor to the principal on all crucial decisions throughout the course of the project (up to and including the building application). His task is not only to monitor the quality already achieved, but also to oversee the ongoing improvement of the design on the basis of the principal’s aims and expectations.
Sustainability as a guideline
They key to sustainability is variability: with retention of value and preferably even with an increase in value, in both an economic and a cultural sense. Public environments and buildings have to be able to be ‘recycled’, to be adapted to a subsequent programme of requirements. History teaches us that it is possible to create buildings that are cherished and are used again and again. In this regard, sustainability should not be limited purely to a question of energy. It is a matter of an approach on the basis of a broader social, cultural and economic context. In this framework, attention must be paid, at the very least, to mobility, accessibility, waste management, health, and the judicious use of energy, water and materials.
Art by commission
Cooperation with an artist may enable the principal and the designer to maximise the assignment. The synergy generated in this way can help visualise a fundamental quest for added social value. The Vlaams Bouwmeester art unit is able to advise principals on the selection of artists who have a contextual affinity with the building assignment.