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The ascent of the radicals into the establishment may present problems


As David Chipperfield observed to fellow jurors on the Mies van der Rohe Award, it is a little curious that the choice of this year's winner, Zaha Hadid, should be perceived as 'safe'. But so it was. Similarly, there is something strangely predictable about the selection of Will Alsop's crazy colourful Barnsley masterplan model as the winner of this year's AJ/Bovis Royal Academy Awards. I was not able to take part in this year's judging, but am informed by the judges that it was a clear winner - an 'obvious choice'. So has architecture been radicalised or have the radicals sold out?

There is little evidence that Hadid, Alsop and the newly crowned king of the establishment, Daniel Libeskind, have watered down their product; they have simply demonstrated the ease with which 'avant-garde'aesthetics can be applied to conventional demands of budget and brief. And, indeed, to more sophisticated architectural problems - Hadid's just-built Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center is credited by New Yorker critic Paul Goldberger as addressing the corner more 'confidently and ingeniously'than any building in the past 40 years.

They have earned their place in the architectural firmament; their success a reflection of the process by which yesterday's enfants terribles become today's establishment figures, injecting new ideas into the mainstream and keeping architecture fresh. It is an inevitable - and healthy - cycle, but one that becomes paradoxical when the ascendant aesthetic is so manifestly unsuited to repetition. Classical architecture, though capable of the grandest of grand gestures, spawned some of our most coherent and successful urban fabric.

While High-Tech's proponents were, and are, giants on the architectural scene, their vocabulary readily translates into 'background'architecture that is unassuming and even anonymous. The Alsop/Hadid/Libeskind oeuvre, on the other hand, is expressly designed for soloists. Imagine a city where schemes are 'given the Alsop treatment'to secure planning permission; where a dazzling array of 'landmarks' jostle for attention, eventually cancelling out each other; where a restrained rectilinear development by, say, Aukett Associates, makes front-page news.

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