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Europan: Time to combat the UK's risk-averse culture


Is there anybody out there with the clout to get a Europan project off the ground? While other countries use the competition to kick-start architectural careers, Britain has a pitiful track record of winning schemes which never quite see the light of day. Last time round, in 2001, all this was set to change. Each of the three British sites was championed by a client who expressed a clear commitment to seeing tangible results. Fast forward to 2003 and their enthusiasm has waned - not one of the three winning schemes is any nearer to seeing the light of day.

This time, to avoid the embarrassment of backing yet another damp squib, the UK has declined to contribute a single site. This year's theme, design in suburbia, might have provided an ideal opportunity for one of our volume housebuilders to distinguish themselves from their competitors by joining forces with the public sector and assuming responsibility for providing a Europan site and getting the winning project built.

The advantages are many: publicity; prestige; the intensive creative input of some of the world's most promising architects and the support of any number of organisations (Europan, the ODPM, RIBA, CABE, ) who would be happy to provide whatever advice, consultancy and support are needed to help the project come to life. It does, of course, involve considerable effort, a great deal of time and extensive collaboration between various different parties. Most of all it requires a willingness to take a risk on untried talent - an area where our own track record is particularly dire.

The future of British architecture is desperately in need of patrons who are prepared to make that leap of faith. It has long since been a source of embarrassment that many Europan entrants select a non-UK site on the basis that it gives them a realistic chance of seeing their competition entry turn into a commission. And it is even more disheartening that this year's entrants do not have any choice but to select a foreign site. The UK's risk-averse culture has already forced many of our brightest talents to forge careers abroad. It is time to redress the balance.

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