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Promoting young talent

By Ruth Slavid
A competition in Scotland was the first in a planned series aimed at removing the barriers to success for the newly qualified.
A small competition with large potential that was held in Scotland recently has caused excitement not only because of the excellent results that it has produced but also because it addresses one of the perennial blocks to the success of ambitious young practices – the need for large amounts of professional indemnity insurance.

The project, a pilot Scottish Scenic Routes competition, set out to garner designs from new designers, who may not even have their own practices. It was open to architects and landscape architects with less than five years’ work experience, with the client – in this case the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – taking responsibility for administration and, if necessary, delivery.

In this way, young designers were able to come up with ideas and stay as involved as they wished to be through the process. The initial three projects, carried through from design to completion in a very short time scale, are modest. The total funding allocated to this pilot project was just £500,000 to cover all fees, construction and administration costs. But it could well be the start of something bigger.

The inspiration for this came from Norway. That country, which some might consider to have an excess of geography, started commissioning young designers to come up with lookouts for its newly designated tourist routes about 20 years ago. Such was the success that it has grown into a major programme with several people employed in its administration. The lookouts have become larger and internationally known, with several winning prizes. It has made the names of a number of designers.

Scotland, which also has wonderful roads running through wild places, was an obvious place in which to imitate this success. The driving force was Peter Wilson, who runs the Wood Studio at Napier University. He organised an exhibition of the Norwegian work and started agitating for a programme. Eventually the Government bit, and launched with the pilot project, with a second competition following shortly afterwards.

Angus Corby at Transport Scotland administered the competition. There were 91 entrants. Shortlisted teams then went through a process rather like a crit with an expert panel to help them make them more workable, before the final decision was made. Ironically, since Corby is the only landscape architect employed at Transport Scotland, the three winning teams were all made up of architects.

‘I think the vast majority of entrants were architects,’ Corby said. ‘There are more architects than landscape architects in Scotland, but we do need to see more entries from landscape architects.’ This is however only the start of a process, and Corby is excited and delighted with the progress so far. ‘That quality and intricacy of landscape design is not something we always get involved with,’ he said.

Transport Scotland worked with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park because it had already identified sites, but future schemes will be distributed around the country. By providing what Corby called ‘support behind the scenes’, the National Park has managed to overcome the barrier of PI insurance as well as getting in at the start of a process that could take off in a similar way to the Norwegian model.

In which case, Scotland will be onto a winner – it will nurture a new generation of professionals, have some great interventions in the landscape, and have worked out a way of removing, or at least lowering, one of the main barriers at the start of professionals’ careers. 

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