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RIBA Manser Medal 2010

Michael Manser introduces this year’s awards

The Manser Medal grew out of the National HomeBuilder Design Awards, which I had chaired since 1999. I took on the role as an opportunity to try to make some improvements to this industry, which I believed had done too much damage to the natural and urban environment.

The annual awards were run by publisher Mike Gazzard and encouraged by ex-RIBA press officer Michael Hanson. A more rigorous design entry qualification was introduced. At the next award ceremony luncheon, I confessed to a Guardian journalist seated next to me that most of the entries were crap and that I didn’t know what to say in my introduction. He said, ‘Speak your mind.’ So I did. There was bedlam – catcalls, whistles and a roll was thrown. But entries have continued to improve ever since.

In 2001, the two Michaels came to me and said they thought the award for best one-off house should be renamed The Manser Medal. It was won by architect Cezary Bednarski for a house in Barnes. He later reported his business had expanded substantially. That alone made the award worthwhile. In 2003, the RIBA added the medal to its awards programme.

In the 18th century Britain created the best housing and planning in the world. It was design-led by educated, sophisticated clients. Three-hundred years on Georgian is still estate agents’ prime selling tool. Sadly, for the last 90 years, speculative housing has been generally lamentable. Historically, innovations in building and architecture occurred in small structures, usually houses, with ideas that are then adopted more widely. Small house commissions used to be the route into private practice for an ambitious young architect – this door has largely been closed.

Even so, the skill, creativity, practicality, ecological orientation, commercial nous and determination of architects to be good at what they do continues to impress me, as demonstrated by the winners of the Medal so far, all of whom honour Vitruvius’s dictum of firmness, commodity and delight.

In the future, the pressures of economics, politics, environmental concerns, community demands and declining natural resources, combined with an explosion in technical ingenuity and ever higher client expectations, will lead to new and different kinds of homes. I’d like to see future winners who are forward-looking and practical, who embrace and exploit evolving technologies while still remembering Vitruvius’s classical geometry of architecture. We need more and even younger architects contributing their ideas and talents to the benefit of all home-owners.

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