Anglo Files: UK Architecture's Rising Generation By Lucy Bullivant.Thames & Hudson, 2005. 256pp. £24.95
The great question of British architecture is: what will happen when the current High-Tech knights reach the end of their careers? Their offices are still expanding, yet at the same time are putting succession plans in place. Firms in their wake, like Wilkinson Eyre, are now also long established. All this suggests that new clearings in the British architectural jungle will emerge for younger practitioners in the next few years.
It's worth noting that ours is the first generation of British architects since the 1830s not to try to overturn the dominant ideology it inherited. In the 1980s, the adherents of PostModernism and vernacular Classicism did attempt an overthrow but failed spectacularly, and hence High-Tech Modernism still rules the roost. The power brokers in British architecture have been more or less stable for 25 years.
But history tells us that change is inevitable, so who might lead a truly new generation of British architects?
Lucy Bullivant puts forward 14 of the best up-and-coming practices. The main criterion for entry seems to be an age bracket of about 40-45 years old, so these are architects who could indeed get really plum commissions in the next decade.
They must also have shown their worth on more complex public projects, not just the usual exquisite homes for fashion-conscious clients.
So does Bullivant's book achieve its goal? Well, yes and no. The title is truly awful, making no sense at all, nor are Bullivant's essays particularly insightful. The real strength of the book lies in the juxtaposition of fantastic projects by talented architects.
Is her choice of 14 firms really the pick of the rising practices in Britain? If pushed, I would agree with about two-thirds, but that is probably the best level of consensus any author could hope for. Bullivant cheats a bit and squeezes projects from another dozen or so practices into her essays, but this too creates problems, for readers might be puzzled as to why Niall McLaughlin, Sarah Wigglesworth and Tonkin Liu get mentioned briefly yet do not make the final cut.
Then there is the regionalist issue. What this book implies is that you absolutely have to be in central London to succeed. Younger regional practices, such as Glenn Howells, Shed KM or Malcolm Fraser (no relation) might well begin to wonder why they bother. This metropolitan bias aside, what is exemplary in Bullivant's book is the number of non-British architects included, with UK residency given equal status to that of nationality. Thus we find a Spaniard and an Iranian running Foreign Offi ce Architects; David Adjaye, a Tanzania-born Ghanian, albeit Londoner by adoption, and many more.
As an emblem of the cosmopolitan nature of London's architectural scene, the book hints at things to come. A recent statistic states that one in four people now living in London was born abroad, and it shows here. So, while the overall format of this title is similar to books such as Super Dutch and Swiss Made, the tone is never nationalistic.
The book also features an even balance between the genders, with almost half of the firms either run entirely by female architects, or with female partners in equal positions of power and status.
These firms vary from the subtle cultural readings of Modern Urban Fabric (muf) to the finely crafted buildings of Alison Brooks (is there a better-detailed recent project than her VXO House in Hampstead? ) and the exuberant projects of Kathryn Findlay, surely one of the best British designers in any field. Less well covered is the growing cultural and ethnic diversity now coming out of certain schools of architecture in Britain (and abroad) and it would be good to think that, in addition to Bullivant's selection, firms such as Mode 1, Patel Taylor or Amin Taha Architects will also get an opportunity to be part of the emerging generation of British architects.
But overall the book is a pleasure. Any survey that can incorporate projects such as Foreign Offi ce's Yokohama Terminal and BBC Music Centre, Caruso St John's Walsall Art Gallery, AHMM's Jubilee School in south London and David Adjaye's forthcoming Denver Art Museum has to be on to a winner. Bullivant's implied message is that the next generation of top architects in Britain, whether it includes those featured in this book or not, will be far more diverse than that which preceded it.
Murray Fraser is a professor at the University of Westminster