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AJ 100

The AJ100 survey is now 11 years old. Its lifetime has coincided with the nationwide drive to revitalise our cities; its evolution charts the impact this has had on architecture's major players. As the opportunities to build mono-function out-of-town developments have steadily declined, architects have had to grapple with the complexities of buildings that occupy constrained sites, respond to historic fabric, and assume a variety of roles.

Where many of the original AJ100 practices were content to define themselves as 'commercial' architects, the definition has become increasingly meaningless. What does it mean to be a commercial architect if the buildings you design are also a significant part of the urban realm, or if you are designing not only retail or office space but maybe also housing, a restaurant, a school?

It is all but impossible to sustain a major practice without confronting the fundamental issues of urbanism, place-making and mixed use. The result is a generation of large practices that define themselves by their design values rather than by their particular niche.

Every year the AJ asks the UK's largest practices to name the architect they most admire. The way the answers have changed over time is revealing. Foster topped the first list back in 1995, and still tops the list today. But back then he was joined by practices such as Broadway Malyan, Aukett Associates and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. This year's list is peopled exclusively by superstars - home-grown talent such as Hopkins and Rogers, but also international heavyweights such as Ando and Siza.

Once the UK's commercial Goliaths looked to each other for inspiration and viewed themselves as a breed apart.

How things have changed. Legendary designers command the greatest respect, and the new breed of super-practices is keeping a watchful eye on the international stage.

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