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Buildings tell us what we really are

While Marco Goldschmied ponders the issues he should pursue during his forthcoming riba presidency, he might bear in mind the importance of repeating, on as many public occasions as possible, that buildings (and the space that surrounds them) make a significant difference to the quality of everyday life. That difference can be for good or ill, and one of the biggest arguments in favour of the use of architects is to maximise the possibility that quality will be enhanced. In a climate where regulation and registration seem predicated on the idea that the public has to be protected from architects, it is doubly important that the profession does not go on the defensive, but points to success stories or, better still, produces work which causes 'ordinary people' to point to those successes.

Earlier this week I visited Nottingham University, and was able to see the Michael Hopkins & Partners project to create a new campus, now under construction. It is already apparent that this group of academic buildings, student and postgrad accommodation and library (sorry, 'learning resource centre') will be highly successful, an excellent addition to what is already an extremely popular university. There would have been no design competition to produce this project had it not been for the university professor of architecture, Peter Fawcett, flying the flag for this method of procurement. The results will fully justify those efforts.

The decision to commission a building, the way in which an architect is chosen, and the route used to achieve the desired result present a microcosm of the attitudes and ethos of the client body. There are myriad examples of how, through a constructive attitude to patronage, almost any institution can redefine itself: think of Bilbao. A university can state its case to be in the premier league by the buildings it creates, and while a good institution can produce bad buildings, it is very rare for a bad institution to produce a good one. In voting for Marco Goldschmied as its president, riba members are voting to acknowledge the power of architecture to make a difference. That is a good place for a presidency to begin.

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