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Open Call A selection procedure for designers of public projects

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.

Quality guarantee

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.

The Open Call in 10 steps

All public and semi-public principals in Flanders can make use of the Open Call to find a designer for a landscape, urban planning, infrastructure or architectural assignment. To do so, the principal contacts the Team Vlaams Bouwmeester at the very earliest stage of the project. The aims, possibilities and preconditions for the assignment are discussed with the Vlaams Bouwmeester. If the Open Call turns out to be the right approach, the following ten steps are followed in tandem:

1. Bouwmeester and principal conclude a cooperative agreement

This agreement includes all the arrangements that are crucial to the success of the Open Call: the assignment’s level of ambition, the budget and the available resources, the timing of the procedure and the fees provided for the designers. In this way the principal gives the Vlaams Bouwmeester the authority to include the project in the next publication of the Open Call and expresses its agreement with the regulations of the Open Call and the arrangements linked to the specific project.

2. The principal appoints a project director

The principal appoints a project director to follow up the whole process, either from among its own staff or as an assignment given to an outside person. The project director sees to smooth communication between all the parties involved, keeps an eye on the principal’s aims, and endeavours to ensure the project is completed within the time agreed. His ultimate task is to ensure the success of the process.

3. A project file is opened

The project director compiles a project file that contains all the documents the designers need to develop a proposal: the specifications, the project definition and a number of practical preconditions. The project definition is a crucial part of the project file and throughout the whole process forms the frame of reference for every decision. It is after all in this document that the principal expresses its aims and expectations.

4. The Bouwmeester publicises the assignment

Twice a year, in January and June, the Vlaams Bouwmeester issues an Open Call with new projects. The list is published in the Bulletin der Aanbestedingen (Bulletin for Tenders) and in the European Union’s announcements. Aspiring designers can read an information section on the Vlaams Bouwmeester website, containing the formulation of the assignment, photos of the location, schedule, construction budget, design remuneration and the permitted basis for the overall fee for each project. Each project published is given a number comprising the number of the Open Call and a project number.

5. The principal selects the design teams together with the Bouwmeester

After the announcement of the assignments in the Open Call, designs teams from Belgium and abroad can declare their candidature for one or more of them. To do this they submit their candidature to the Vlaams Bouwmeester. The Bouwmeester then draws up a shortlist of candidate designers from which, after proper deliberation, the principal selects three to seven design teams for the rest of the procedure.

6. The principal informs the designers

The design teams are given all the necessary information about the assignment during briefings organised by the principal. At the first briefing the project is explained to the selected designers, the project file is handed over, work agreements are made and the project site is visited. The design teams have the opportunity to ask questions about the project, the study assignment and the site. At the second briefing, the principal is once again available to answer any additional questions.

7. The design teams generate a proposal

After the briefings, the design teams generate a design proposal which, depending on what is set down in the cooperative agreement, may range from a sketch with a concept document to a more extensive design with a model. The design teams submit their tender and the project proposal to the Vlaams Bouwmeester anonymously by the agreed date.

8a. The jury considers the design proposals…

These anonymous submissions are put before a jury consisting of the Vlaams Bouwmeester, three or four representatives of the principal and one external expert who is nominated by the Bouwmeester. Under the chairmanship of the Bouwmeester, the jury designates the candidates with a sufficiently well-developed submission as winners of the anonymous stage of the competition. The questions are also formulated that will be put to the selected candidates.

8b. … and the laureates present their concept to the jury

At this point the anonymity is ended and a start is made on the negotiation stage, with a verbal exposition by the selected candidates. They answer any questions the jury may have prepared. At this point the principal is assisted by the Bouwmeester, the members of the selection jury and possibly by additional advisors. They together make up the allocation committee, with the Bouwmeester usually acting as its chairman on behalf of the principal.

9. The preferred entry is designated and the assignment is allocated

After the presentations, the allocation committee designates the preferred entry in mutual consultation. This is the selected candidate who is in the leading position on the basis of the allocation criteria and whom the principal will invite to take part in the final negotiations over the contract. Once these negotiations have been completed, the principal can definitively allocate the assignment to the chosen design team.

10. Quality monitoring

After allocation, the chosen design team draws up a definitive design in consultation with the principal. This design may have evolved considerably compared to the proposal originally submitted. So at this stage it is useful for the principal to be able to rely on the insight and advice of the external expert whom the Bouwmeester nominated as a member of the jury. He will be familiar with the parties involved, with the project and its background, and with the principal’s concept, and together with the project manager sees to the monitoring of quality as the final stage of the Open Call.