Inside Housing – News – Grenfell renovation architect not appointed through tender process, investigation finds
The architectural firm that oversaw the design of the fateful Grenfell Tower renovation likely would not have won the contract had it been put through a competitive bidding process, the fire investigation shows .
Studio E was appointed by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization (KCTMO) to design a major overhaul of the tower – including the installation of new cladding – although it never undertook a project involving a high-rise residential building, admitted a director of the company yesterday.
Andrzej Kuszell, director of Studio E, told the survey that KCTMO never asked about the company’s experience with renovating or cladding high-rise buildings.
He agreed with Richard Millett, lead counsel for the investigation, that the regulations requiring bidders to have relevant experience meant that Studio E was unlikely to have won the contract if it had gone through a process of competitive sourcing.
Studio E was named for the Grenfell Tower project after previously winning a contract to design the new Kensington Academy and Recreation Center (KALC), which is located nearby.
He was eligible for the Grenfell Tower project because the fees proposed by KCTMO were below the threshold of £ 174,000 set by the Official Journal of the European Unionprocurement rules.
These fees were considered “low for what we were asked to do,” Kuszell said.
In an email sent in February 2012 to Mr. KuszellMark Anderson, then director of assets, investments and engineering at KCTMO, said that ALMO and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) wanted to “improve the Grenfell Tower while undertaking the KALC project” .
Mr. Anderson expressed the need to “proceed quickly with the project in order to maximize any opportunities that may arise from joint procurement and construction.”
Bruce Sounes, the architect of Studio E who led the renovation of the Grenfell Tower, had also never worked on a high-rise residential project.
He forwarded Mr. Anderson’s email to Mr. Kuszell, describing Studio E as “a little green on process and technical” and offering “quick” training.
During the hearing, Mr Sounes said he was referring to the “rather arduous” task of undertaking the work required by KCTMO in an occupied building.
An email between senior RBKC officers sent in 2011 and seen by the investigation described Grenfell Tower as “one of the [KCTMO’s] worst real estate assets “and said the renovation” would keep it from looking like a poor cousin of the brand new facility being developed next door “, with a new coating signifying” the visual appearance of the area is significantly improved ” .
But Mr Kuszell dismissed Mr Millett’s suggestions during yesterday’s hearing that the improved appearance of the tower was the reason for its renovation or that it was an “addition to the KALC project, stating, “Sorry to say it, but I would like you to stop using such negative language.
Studio E wanted to do “the best possible job on the tower within the budget the client offered,” he added.
The practice experienced financial difficulties in 2014, leading to the voluntary liquidation of one of its branches – Studio E LLP – with its contracts taken over by Studio E Ltd.
However, Mr Kuszell denied that it affected resources for the Grenfell Tower renovations.
Mr Sounes and the architect working with him on the project, Neil Crawford, performed a technical review of the Grenfell Tower renovation in October 2015. The review did not identify any possible safety concerns.
When asked if he would have done anything different with regards to the Grenfell Tower renovation, Mr Kuszell said: The advice given by specialists or marketing products was so unreliable and misleading – it’s so sad to say, but i don’t think this tragedy would have happened.
The hearing continues, with Mr Sounes due to give more evidence on Tuesday.