A system designed to improve decisions makes things worse
Architects are capable of producing places that all will enjoy, but society does not let them. In practice, there seems to be some conspiracy that prevents the really good project being realised. Competitions were seen as a solution. However, the British have managed to develop a competition system which often makes things worse. How did we do that? The jury is often composed of laymen, with just one or two architects in an advisory role. To be frank, the decisionmakers are not qualified to make a decision.
We have unwittingly created a system that satisfies no one and creates dissatisfaction and mistrust among architects. In the end, the general public is denied some of the most interesting projects, due to a lack of understanding, aversion to risk and ignorance. It simply is not good enough.
The result is often a watered-down Modernism which, after 50 years, is perceived as modern and current. I have had three disappointments in 2001: the BBC, Portland Place; the Meteorological Office; and Central St Martin's College of Art. I am familiar with the chosen schemes and know that they are all lost opportunities. I wish I could say that the winners were terrific, to the point where I was jealous of their inventiveness, ingenuity and aesthetic, but I cannot. The BBC faced the opportunity of creating an extraordinary public space for a public broadcasting installation. I had created a completely new form of square with buildings 'rooted' in it, joined together at high level to give a large column-free floor space. It would have been something new, useful, and uniquely designed for our climate - a public face for a public faculty. I lost.
I then modified the scheme for part of Rotterdam. Both the client body and the people love this project. They greeted it with enthusiasm, because it is fresh, challenging, useful (the Dutch are very pragmatic) and affordable. It is proceeding.
The Met Office, even though it was not one of my favourite projects, was considerably more beautiful and useful than the winner. My proposal attempted to create a sense of delight and joy within the working body that would represent a 'home' to them as well as a place where they could receive visitors with pride.
Even though the project teetered on the edge of business-park conceit, it did manage to be a piece of architecture. All decisions on the winning project were made on other considerations. The word 'architecture'was never referred to. It is as though a considered architectural response counts against you.
Central St Martin's was a clear case of drawing something that looked affordable.
Government budgets for educational establishment are so low that anything that appears as though it might be expensive is ruled out. Again, better or even more appropriate proposals never surface and the students will continue to suffer from substandard conditions. I lost - even though I have designed and am building another art school in Toronto and spent eight years teaching sculpture at Central St Martin's.
I am sure that many architects can cite similar experiences. I am simply trying to underline the fact that the system that prevents the possibility of great architecture has something to do with the composition of the juries. The best work tends to be commissioned by an individual who has a passion for the work of a particular architect - who believes they are right and, even if they are not, the chances of the odd great piece of architecture is higher than it being left to the vagaries of the committee.
WA, from a table under a sunshade in Tuscany