Chinese government drops RRP from 2010 expo masterplan – two months after it won design competition

Eastern promise broken: The Chinese have handed over control of the Expo designs to state-sponsored institutes
Eastern promise broken: The Chinese have handed over control of the Expo designs to state-sponsored institutes

Architect Richard Rogers Partnership has reacted angrily to the announcement that it has been taken off the 2010 Shanghai World Expo masterplanning project.

The architect, which won the competition two months ago, has been told by the Shanghai Expo bureau that it intends to take on RRP’s concept for the 680 ha scheme but not the firm itself.

This contravenes the accepted practice of asking a winning architect to implement its designs.

RRP partner Richard Paul said the firm was disappointed. He said: “One would normally think winning the competition would be a ticket to take a further part in the development in one way or another.”

It has also emerged that Paul and Richard Rogers flew to China to make their case to the vice-mayor of Shanghai. He told them that the designs would now be taken forward by government design institutes.

All Chinese work undertaken by foreign architects must be undertaken alongside a government-sponsored design institute. This leaves the architect vulnerable to the institutes taking control.

Paul said: “We met the vice-mayor to try to demonstrate that while they had the concept it was really only the first idea in a framework that needed a lot more analysis.”

Winning the competition would normally be an entry ticket to take further part

Richard Paul, RRP partner

RRP has no grounds to challenge the decision legally as the Shanghai authorities ran the competition as a consultation, rather than with the assurance of future work. The effect of this is that RRP has not technically been sacked.

The firm hopes that it will be asked to design some of the more detailed sections of the masterplan.

RRP was announced as winner of the competition after beating off a 10-strong international shortlist including US firm Perkins Eastman and a team from Tongji university.

RRP’s treatment by the Chinese government is worrying for other western firms. In particular, design consultants will beconcerned about the uncertainty surrounding their intellectual property rights.

The development will cover a 680 ha site, which includes an 8 km frontage along the Huangpo River. The centre will include international pavilions, conference and performance venues, hotels, offices, retail and restaurant facilities and an “expo village”. It is expected to become a trade hub after the event.

The news comes after two Chinese projects were postponed last year. Last August a £275m Herzog & de Meuron stadium for the 2008 Olympics had to be reworked because the Chinese authorities were worried that it was not efficient enough.

This followed a delay in starting construction of Rem Koolhaas headquarters for China State Television in Beijing. Industry insiders say the Chinese authorities are keen to slow construction growth because a shortage of materials is pushing up costs.