In a startling break with 150 years of tradition, the Royal Gold Medal for architecture will go not to an individual or to a group of individuals, but to an entire city. This year's jury has decided to award the medal to the city of Barcelona for 'inspired city leadership, pursuing an ambitious yet pragmatic urban strategy and the highest design standards', which have 'transformed the city's public realm, immensely expanded its amenities and regenerated its economy, providing pride in its inhabitants and delight in its visitors.'
Five individuals are named in the citation as having been instrumental in the city's regeneration: Narcis Serra, the first democratic mayor; architect Oriol Bohigas, the co-ordinator for urbanism from 1980-1984; Pasqual Maragall, mayor from 1982-1997; Jose Antonio Acebillo, director of urban projects from 1980-1988 and now director of Barcelona Regional; and Joan Clos i Matheu, Maragall's deputy and successor.
The jury members were Professor Peter Carolin, Sir Norman Foster, Sir Michael Hopkins, Ian Latham, Stuart Lipton, Amanda Levete and Professor Robert Maxwell, all nominated and chaired by riba president David Rock.
Amanda Levete said: 'This is really a very important decision. We were completely unanimous. Barcelona is an amazing model for European cities.' The decision, she said, arose from the realisation that several nominees were from Spain. 'We debated a lot who the recipient should be,' she said. 'Regeneration was also the will of the people. They just embraced the idea.'
Norman Foster told the aj: 'Barcelona has been transformed by an extraordinary investment in public architecture over an extraordinary period of time, and extraordinary acts of patronage in the public and private sector.' He said the decision was 'particularly relevant now nationally and in terms of London. There is a huge amount to learn from the city and the individuals involved.'
Peter Carolin said: 'With London getting a new mayor you need someone like Oriol Bohigas, who was the head of a school of architecture, who got the city going and developed a theory.'
Bohigas, one of the five recipients, called the news 'fantastic': 'The three mayors have been very important politicians. They understand very well the role of architecture and urban planning.'
The award of the gold medal has already received royal assent but was put before council for ratification yesterday (Wednesday). The award will be made in June and riba hopes all five citees will collect it.
Ten honorary fellows of the RIBA were also put before council for ratification yesterday. They are: Helen Auty, who has promoted the Royal Society of Arts' Student Design Awards Scheme; Richard Burdett, director of the cities, architecture and engineering programme at the London School of Economics; engineer Cynthia Grant, ex-executive director, transport planning at the lddc where she led its bridges programme; film-maker Murray Grigor; landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson; artist Susanna Heron; Peter Murray, who launched Blueprint and runs exhibition, design and communications consultancy Wordsearch; Paul Oliver, editor of the Encyclopaedia of Vernacular Architecture; Iain Tuckett, director of Coin Street Community Builders; and engineer Mark Whitby of Whitby Bird and Partners, forthcoming president of the Institution of Civil Engineers.