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The Establishment isn't what it used to be . . .


In congratulating Norman Foster on his peerage and Will Alsop on his OBE, one can only wonder at the sea change which seems to have taken place in the relationship between public opinion and the architectural profession. It is not so very long ago that architects were the automatic target for every saloon-bar bore in Britain, criticised as solely responsible for every imaginable ill in our run-down cities, from high-rise slum housing to ugly civic development schemes. The people who had been praised to the skies in the 50s and 60s for their work in rebuilding Britain were now seen as vandals, intent on replacing the well-loved past with a second- rate future. The Prince of Wales' Hampton Court speech famously encapsulated a general public mood.

By that time (1984), the profession had already begun to change as the one-size-fits-all ethos gave way to more sympathetic forms of architecture, and it was unfortunate, to say the least, that the very people at the forefront of advocating new and better environments became the targets for the worst level of criticism. That, in part, explains why many so many of our better architects found themselves seeking (and getting) work overseas.

But while the profession may have been criticised or even reviled for a decade, the honours system proved to be flexible in recognising that the talented in every generation deserve reward, whatever temporary critical fashions might suggest. The leaders of the architectural avant-garde have thus become the pillars of the new establishment -an establishment which in traditional British fashion has found no difficulty in itself evolving in its criteria and scope. Now, it seems, architects can do no wrong. It would not be surprising if a host of honours were to be awarded as a consequence of the wave of brave new millennium buildings coming our way. As for the Prince, he seems to be embracing the new in a constructive way - who would have imagined that his institute would host an exhibition of designs by Neave Brown, Martin Richardson et al, or that they would have been happy to exhibit there. More evidence of the balancing effects of time.

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