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Archigram honour is timely reminder of today's shortcomings


Archigram as Royal Gold Medallist. It's a prospect to relish, not least for the image of the Queen nodding sagely as she thumbs through comic-book images of plug-in cities and buildings on stilts. (Did she consult her eldest son before granting royal consent? ) In offering the perfect excuse to revive much-loved media-friendly images, the choice secures the double whammy of upping the profile of the Gold Medal and rewarding home-grown talent.But it is a mistake to dismiss the move as an easy bid for publicity or a triumph of paper architecture over built work. Archigram's impact on the work of 'real'superstar architects has been well documented, but in challenging fundamental shortcomings of architectural education it has influenced countless others who have gone on to shape our built environment.

Archigram's oeuvre epitomises some of the very skills which are deemed to be lacking in education but essential in the workplace - notably outstanding communication skills and technical competence.

Engaging, witty, and instantly accessible, Archigram drawings are an immediate and comprehensive statement of Archigram ideas. There is no truck with the notion that some concepts are too difficult to explain: if an idea cannot be communicated it may as well not exist.The approach is profoundly egalitarian, but also commercially shrewd - effort spent in seducing the client is time well spent.By taking delight in the potential offered by technology, Archigram made it cool to get excited about materials or to be caught swotting up on structures - a crucial step in the bid to counteract the polarisation between students who are imaginative designers and those who are competent technicians.

It is particularly appropriate that Archigram has been awarded the honour in the year that the RIBA has decided to combine the Gold Medal ceremony with the ceremony for the Silver and Bronze Medals awarded to student work.Bogged down in the interminable debate as to the extent to which architectural education should mimic paid employment, it is easy to forget that practice can be at its best when it most resembles student work.

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