ROGERS IN FULL FLIGHT
As the whooping that greeted the announcement that Richard Rogers' Barajas Airport had won the 2006 Stirling Prize died away to a gently satisfied murmur, the AJ was granted an extraordinary interview.
Rogers himself; Ivan Harbour, one of his anointed successors; and Simon Smithson, the head of his Spanish office, were swept upstairs with me for a quiet chat.
To be honest, a combination of euphoria, a few glasses of red and a very healthy working dynamic between Rogers and his two acolytes meant that it was more a rambling conversation than a formal interview.
'I am very, very pleased to have won it, ' the great man stated at the outset. He is rightly proud of the building.
In fact, all present were clearly deeply chuffed to have scooped the big one. After 11 years of Stirling it was time the prize went to the most consistently brilliant large practice of the last two or three decades.
Chipping into the conversation, Harbour deployed what must be a standard anecdote about the airport.
'Our commercial director was out there with some Arsenal fans going to an away match some time ago', he said. 'The conversation changed to the amazing architecture the moment they got off the plane.
That's a real achievement'.
And it was not just the design that Rogers and his colleagues were proud of, but the speed at which the project was completed. There seemed to be some confusion over exactly how long Barajas had taken, however. Was it eight years or 10? (In fact it was nine. ) Who could blame the architects for this confusion?
After all, if you'd been working on Heathrow's Terminal 5 since the early '80s, a year or two would surely seem neither here nor there.
The Rogers team also made a fascinating, and pertinent, point about the Spanish planning system.
Over there, dull but important questions of transportation, site and requirement are settled in a public inquiry before the design work commences - and the conclusions then inform the design brief.
This revelation brought about a huge praising session of Spain. To say the three Brits are major Ibero-philes would be a massive understatement. 'The country suffered 40 years of fascism and now you have this explosion of joy, ' Rogers said with real passion. Smithson, a Madrid resident, then made the amazing statement that 'Spain is better for architecture even than Holland, ' which was greeted with widespread nodding. Consider the importance that Dutch architecture has for architects in Rogers' circle, and you will see what a declaration this is.
Unfortunately your correspondent had to bring a hint of negativity into the conversation by asking the question on everyone's lips after Rogers' amazing win. Are you retiring, Richard? 'I'm not dead yet, ' he said sharply, although he admitted, 'there is a new generation and we are looking at the practice and the succession.' Just 48 hours later Rogers revealed that Harbour and his contemporary Graham Stirk would be adding their surnames to the practice's name ( ajplus 16.10.06).
As our time drew to a close, there was suddenly a glimpse of Rogers' inner politician. 'The question that needs to be asked is where is England at the moment in design terms?' he said. 'The simple fact is that while Spain is great, London has never been better.'
And with that it was time for Rogers to go. His name might no longer be the only one up in lights at his practice, but on Saturday night he was the person the waiting media all wanted a piece of.