RIBA AWARDS FAVOUR 'NAMES' OVER SUPER-PRACTICES
Regarding the RIBA Awards 2007, it seems it is not design but the 'name' that matters most. In the rarefied circles of architectural luvvies, Capita is a name they'd prefer not to vote for, regardless of the quality of our architecture. Are the RIBA Awards just an excuse for the 'archistocracy' to pat each other on the back and pass around gongs for their trophy cabinets?
Take the St Francis of Assisi Academy in Liverpool. This year the North West was a particularly strong region, but how this academy failed to win is beyond me. Perhaps if it had had a 'proper' architect's name on it, it would have been a dead cert?
The academy ticks all the boxes in terms of creativity, sustainability and innovation. It is one of the most sustainable education facilities in the UK, held up by the government as an 'eco-pioneer' and template for 200 carbon-neutral eco schools. The school's principal referred to the building as having 'a dramatic impact upon standards of achievement', and it has received rave reviews from a number of architectural commentators. If you're looking for a definition of what 'good architecture' is - surely what the RIBA Awards should be about - then this is it.
But there was no sign of the academy when the RIBA Awards were announced, and I am convinced that this has nothing to do with the quality of the building, but rather our name. There's a lot of snobbishness in our profession about the so-called 'superpractices' that have grown in the past few years, and swallowed up smaller practices. We're accused of being profit-driven and of compromising the creativity of the profession.
Since when has size had anything to do with it? Do we employ less talented people than smaller outfits? Of course not.
This is a ridiculous head-in-the-sand attitude and it's why practices like Capita don't win RIBA Awards. Funnily enough, we win awards everywhere else. Perhaps the RIBA is becoming less relevant for larger practices?
Rob Firth, Capita Percy Thomas