Architecture must make room for the ordinary - pubs and all
It's a great time to be taking the helm of The Architects' Journal. Having spent the last three years as the aj's buildings editor, I have been documenting a triumphant phase in British architecture - thanks to the combined effects of lottery funding, a healthy economy, and to a staggering wealth of talent. But I have also come across a great deal of frustration. Endless tales of not getting enough work, or not getting the right kind of work. Of projects which everybody seems to love but which never quite get off the ground, or which somehow end up as watered-down (and cheaper) versions of the way they were conceived.
Architects want to make good buildings, and it's in everybody's interest that they do. The challenge is to make society aware of just how valuable good architecture really is. Valuable in an economic sense. Britain's architectural reputation rests on landmark buildings designed by superstar architects and sponsored by visionary clients. But the future of the profession as a whole, and the quality of day-to-day life in Britain, is dependent on a less high-profile client base, most of whom are driven by the pursuit of profit: owners of call centres who realise that a stimulating environment can reduce staff turnover; brewery bosses who know that a well-designed interior can pull in the crowds.
'Ordinary' clients are commissioning good architecture. Last year for the first time, riba regional awards were given to pubs - one by Panter Hudspith and one by Stephenson Bell. This year Austin-Smith:Lord has won an award for, of all things, a sludge disposal facility. As a regional award winner the sludge disposal facility could be subject to scrutiny by the Stirling prize jury, including fashion designer Stella McCartney, who has been selected as a judge on the grounds that she should help attract a wider audience to architecture. Let's hope she does. The profession needs as wide a client base as possible. Not just for the blockbusters, but for smaller projects and, by implication, for less-established architects. And the most potent message we can give them is that good architecture equates with value for money.