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Stirling 2001 - special awards

Stirling 2001

The winners of this year's RIBA awards show an impressive geographical spread, as shown here.

This is an indication of a welcome change in the way that buildings are financed and procured in the UK. This is a reversal of a situation that has prevailed since the end of the Second World War, with London receiving an ever greater concentration of political, cultural and economic influence. How stark the contrast with Germany, where one of the tragic consequences of the Second World War was the partitioning of the country. Upon Konrad Adenauer's insistence, his small home town of Bonn became the new capital of West Germany.

Ironically, this decision to locate the political power of the country away from the cultural and economic centres, combined with the high level of regional autonomy that had always been enjoyed within the separate states or 'Landers' had a profound - and positive - effect on urban life and architecture. Typically 500,000 to 600,000 in population (only Hamburg and Munich were substantially larger at 1.6 and 1.3 million respectively), cities such as Dusseldorf, Essen, Duisburg and Frankfurt could each support a couple of first-class art galleries, a concert hall, and some theatres, while Cologne (one million people) could enjoy even richer cultural facilities.

Meanwhile, in post-war UK, London, with some seven million people, increasingly 'damaged' our other major cities, themselves already facing tremendous difficulties through the declining manufacturing base with all its adverse social and economic consequences. So Bradford, Sheffield, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester and Newcastle, to name just a few, suffered in terms of cultural opportunity, investment and political influence. The circumstances of the major cities of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were even more difficult.

But now, through a combination of political 'evolution' within Europe, 'devolution' within the UK, Lottery funding, and sheer gutsy willpower, we see a real renaissance: Millennium Square in Leeds; the redevelopment of Cardiff and Bristol Docks; and the cultural development around the Tyne with Gateshead are just a few examples.

As our cities develop a new independence from London, and a new and more confident self-perception, they are beginning to reposition themselves as 'European' and, indeed, international centres able to attract significant inward investment from both the private and the public sectors.

Fertile ground, then, for the RIBA's annual awards: much going on and much of it away from London. Again we have been spoiled for choice: six cracking projects for consideration for the Stirling Prize, ranging in location from Cornwall and Yorkshire to our British Embassy territory in Berlin. There was also a huge spread in size and value, and in building type - from a medical surgery to a private residence, and from government offices to a museum.

Then look at the 'First Building Award' (Cedar House in Perthshire) or the 'Client of the Year' (a housing association in Glasgow), the 'RIBA Journal Sustainability Award' (Nottingham University) or the 'Stephen Lawrence Award' (Winchester) and you will again find the London-centric focus is being relaxed. Of course, London has enjoyed its own success, both in terms of projects (Dulwich Art Gallery for the Crown Estate Conservation Award) and the RADA building (Adapt Trust Access Award), but a new energy is being applied much more evenly across the UK. That is good for our cities, good for architecture and great for the RIBA: our mission, delivered partly through the awards scheme, is the advancement of architecture - everywhere.

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