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It could be you boarding the awards merry-go-round

Awards, of course, are imperfect, arbitrary, and pretty much meaningless. Unless you happen to win one - or are involved with organising one. Two particularly illustrious names are launching architectural awards this week - the prime minister and the AJ.

The prime minister's Better Public Building Award, to be announced at the British Construction Industry Awards in October, is being presented as a reflection of the government's interest in raising standards in public building. In other words, the government has clocked the fact that much of this country's most dismal architecture is substantially subsidised by public money, and has realised that it is a disgrace. The award is open to any project carried out for central or local government or for grant-aided organisations, and you have probably spotted that this category includes several high-profile buildings which might reasonably expect to be up for any award going. But don't let it put you off. Think of the proverbial lollipop lady and her OBE: there is a political and PRmileage in selecting the unexpected. However humble your project, it is always worth going for it if you know that the quality is there.

The real problem with awards is that, like buses and policemen, they are never there when you need them.

When they do come - just like buses - they all come at once. It is hard to imagine that Foster or Rogers, or any other superstars, are actually keeping count of the awards jostling for the space on the (strictly metaphorical) mantelpiece. The fact is that awards are generally bestowed on those who need them least, at a point when they are far too late to be of any material use.Which brings us to this week's other important announcement: the launch of the Architects'Journal's First Building Award, for the first building by a new practice. The award, which will be presented alongside the Stirling Prize, is specifically designed to support architects at a time when the £5,000 prize money might represent more than petty cash. And the kudos might just prove to be useful at a crucial stage in their career.

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