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Added value: Manser winners show the worth of a good architect


A record number of RIBA Awards; two worthy winners of the RFAC Building of the Year; an outstanding shortlist for the Prime Minister's Award for Better Public Buildings.

Architecture is in a self-congratulatory mood this week - and rightly so. But will this flurry of industry awards bear any relation to Architecture Week's avowed agenda of attracting new audiences to architecture?

While the high-profile awards provide gratifying proof that we have very good architects producing very good buildings, the more modest RIBA Manser Medal (for the best architect-designed house in Britain) is drawing attention to the range and complexity of skills which a decent architect can offer a private client. Since its launch in 2001, the architect of all three winning projects have provided a service beyond the narrow remit of 'good design'. The first winner, a live/work unit on the site of a former coach house by Cezary Bednarski, was an instance of an architect helping a client to realise what seemed like an impossible ambition. Two planning applications (and an appeal) to build a two-storey house had already been turned down before Bednarski advised that, since the site's land-use designation was employment-related, a live/work development - a house with a first-floor studio - might have more success (AJ 28.6.01). Last year's winner, Brooke Coombes House by Burd Haward Marston Architects, showed how an architect can help to establish a framework - structural, financial and administrative - which allows for a significant element of self-build within an architect-led project (AJ 30.8.01).

This year's winner, Anderson House by Jamie Fobert Architects, exemplifies the clearest instance of the way in which architecture can add value - by turning the most unlikely forgotten spaces into places of real worth. From the unlikely starting point of a void surrounded by 7mhigh party walls, the architect has created a space which, far from being claustrophobic, is both spacious and light.

Not only is it a stunning home. It is also an outstanding example of the way an architect can use severe constraints - long narrow access, a windowless perimeter, and 26 Party Wall Agreements to name a few - as the impetus for spectacular results.

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