Canadian Architect

Feature

Editorial: Better Procurement, Better Buildings

Edmonton's architectural renaissance owes much to a procurement procedure developed by city architect Carol Bélanger, MRAIC.

July 1, 2015
by Elsa Lam

Perkins+Will and Group2 designed the new Meadows Community Recreation Centre and Meadows Library. The City of Edmonton decided on the team through a modified quality-based selection process.

Perkins+Will and Group2 designed the new Meadows Community Recreation Centre and Meadows Library. The City of Edmonton decided on the team through a modified quality-based selection process. Photo by Tom Arban

Edmonton is rapidly becoming a hotbed of Canadian contemporary architecture. Since former mayor Stephen Mandel’s “no more crap” declaration, the city has pursued a progressive policy for public buildings, recruiting top architects for everything from recreation centres and libraries to park pavilions and municipal waste depots.

The city’s architectural renaissance owes much to a procurement procedure developed by city architect Carol Bélanger, MRAIC. “In the past, procurement was by invitation to a select few,” he says. The move to make the process more public coincided with the ratification of the New West Partnering Trade Agreement between the western provinces, as well as the establishment of an Edmonton Design Review Committee.

Recalls Bélanger, “We thought, how do we limit the work that consultants have to do [in response to an RFQ or RFP], in order to get a good cross-section to choose from?”

From this discussion, they decided on a strategy of grouping several projects in a single RFQ—for instance, three rec centres or libraries—to make it more attractive to apply.

In addition to the regular categories, such as experience and sub-consultant team, the City scores applicants’ previous awards and publications as an objective yardstick for architectural quality. They also score firms’ track records in sustainability and in facing design review committees. Graphic rendering ability is another element in the score, as the City wants teams that can face up to the scrutiny of public review. “It was a real shift of knitting all those things into our scoring process,” says Bélanger.

A further innovation is the inclusion of the client in the RFQ selection committee. “That way they have skin in the game and they understand the breadth of consultants we have to pick from,” explains Bélanger. The committee shortlists five firms to receive RFPs for the individual projects in the package.

In the RFP, the same categories from the RFQ carry forward, and a few are added, such as methodology and vision. The vision section does not ask for a full design, but rather a basic site strategy or parti. Winning project visions have included responses as simple as a box and a few lines indicating a building’s connection to existing road networks.

For fees (worth 10 percent of the overall score), the City employs a modified quality-based selection approach. Instead of a two-envelope system, they state the project budget and ask proponents to refer to provincial fee guidelines and do the math. If they’re within five percent either above or below the target number, they get full points for the category. “In the end, the fees come in pretty much equal across the board,” says Bélanger.

Based on the RFP, the City shortlists three firms for an interview. “You want to make sure there’s a good relationship. It also demonstrates the commitment of the firms—who shows up at the interview,” he says.

The process is one that has served Edmonton well. I toured the city’s recent projects last month, including buildings by Teeple Architects, Perkins+Will Canada, gh3, Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative, HCMA, Dub Architects, Group2, Architecture | Tkalcic Bengert and Danish firm SHL. They were among the strongest works I’ve seen in Canada recently. It’s a model other cities could certainly learn from. “There’s no real magic to it,” says Bélanger, “we pay the full fee, but then expect the best.”