Public contracts: How to achieve sustainable quality?

An initiative of the G30 Association of Architects1, the discussion organized on October 18th, 2011 in the Solvay Library in Brussels, aimed at questioning a panel of eminent
national and international speakers about the future of public contracts when faced with the challenge of sustainability when shaping the built environment in Europe.


Made up of JACQUES TIMMERMAN (Belgium), Architect, President of the G30 Asbl / JAN BROUWER (The Netherlands), Architect, Adviser to the Rijksbouwmeester / MALCOLM HARBOUR MEP (United Kingdom), Chairman, Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection of the European Parliament / FRANK JUDO (Belgium) Partner Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick /  JAN OLBRYCHT MEP (Poland), President of the URBAN Intergroup of the European Parliament (*) / SUNAND PRASAD (United Kingdom), Architect, Former RIBA President / HEIDE RÃœHLE MEP (Germany), Rapporteur for EP’s Opinion on the European Commission’s Green Paper on the modernisation of public procurement and EDUARDO SOUTO DE MOURA (Portugal), Architect, Pritzker Prize 2011, the panel of speakers, moderated by Hughes BELIN (Journalist), was invited to exchange views on the current situation regarding public procurement contracts for architectural and urban design services through four major questions.


With more than 70% of Europeans now living in urban areas, cities have become national and regional driving forces in terms of the economy. Yet while sustainable development is one of the priorities of the EU, we are currently witnessing a deterioration in the overall quality of our built infrastructure, along with the emergence of problems related to issues such as environment, energy efficiency, mobility (urban transport), housing, social challenges (social exclusion, immigration, the ageing population), public services and local public finance, etc.
One of the reasons behind this situation lies in the way public contracts are allocated. Too often, those responsible for placing orders take account of financial considerations only (lowest price and short term view) and thus neglect the real (life cycle) costs, including those involving sustainability, which can generally only be measured over the long term.
The revision of the EU legislation with regard to public procurement (currently under discussion) was initiated by a European Commission’s ‘Green Book’ published at the beginning of 2011. This process as well as a more recent report, ‘The Cities of Tomorrow’ by Commissioner Johannes Hahn (DG REGIO), represent an opportunity to ask questions and propose solutions about how the European legal framework can be further elaborated which encourages a global approach to sustainability as applied to the built environment.


The debate focused on four major questions. These involved the conditions related to society, economy and ethics, which need to be established in order to arrive at practices in public procurement contracts, which effectively respond to the needs of sustainable quality.

  • How do we reconcile the necessity to leave sufficient freedom to the Public Purchasing Authorities, on one hand, and to respond to the essential requirement of achieving overall quality and sustainability of the built environment from the point of view of the public interest, on the other hand?
  • In the case of architectural and urban design services specifically having regard to their strong societal impact, how can we ‘correct’ the potential perverse effects of the horizontal nature of the Public Procurement Directive whereby insufficient distinction has been made between very different categories of services for selection criteria, in particular intellectual services?
  • To what extent is it possible to set mandatory requirements to further encourage the Public Sector to effectively use quality selection and award criteria that duly take account of the life cycle cost of in all building and urban project design and renovation?
  • How is it possible to guarantee the independence of architects including their financial independence so that they are able to act as true guarantors of the public interest in public procurement contracts including when public purchasers choose to have recourse to PPP and DBFM methods?


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