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The only way is up

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition opened this week with an entire room of models of tall buildings curated by Lord Foster in addition to the main architecture room (below). Will Alsop's Barnsley masterplan model picked up the £10,000 AJ/Bovis award for the best piece of work in the architecture room, while a drawing by Bartlett PhD student Neil Wenman was awarded the £5,000 prize for the best submission by a first time exhibitor. This year's AJ/Bovis awards judges were Edward Cullinan, Mike Portchmouth, Paul Finch, Ruth Slavid and John Spanswick of Bovis. On the following pages we show all the winning entries along with extracts from the judges' comments, and Kenneth Powell delivers his verdict on the show.

MAIN PRIZE £10,000 WINNER

Will Alsop 3m x 4m model of Alsop Architects'masterplan for Barnsley

'It is a very typical issue of regeneration, and it takes masterplanning out of the usual planners' land. It is a different bent on community architecture. It is a polemic piece. The man in the street will either love it or hate it' The annual barrage of critical scorn notwithstanding, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is an institution that shows no signs of faltering. As a showcase for contemporary painting and sculpture, the show may have its deficiencies, but the architecture room has regularly provided a reasonably informative snapshot of the current British scene. And the Summer Exhibition still pulls in the crowds - 85,000 last year - making it an excellent venue for showing architecture to a non-specialist public.

In that context, it seems extraordinary that so little effort is made to explain the architectural exhibits to visitors, most of whom do not read the AJ and for whom 'photovoltaic canopy, Cambridge' or 'Pinto, Madrid'mean nothing. The general policy is that there are no labels, just an uninformative catalogue, though some of this year's exhibitors - Eldridge Smerin, for example, with the model of its current Canterbury project - manage to helpfully circumvent the rule.

Not many years ago, when architecture was generally colourless and strictly orthogonal, it was all too easy for most visitors to pass through the architecture room with barely a glance. This year, many will be riveted by Will Alsop's extraordinary, colourful and very large (1m was lopped off it at the insistence of the hanging committee) model of his masterplan for Barnsley. Nearby is a model of Alsop's winning proposal for Liverpool's 'Fourth Grace'. As architectural models go, it is rough and ready (made on the famous kitchen table, chez Alsop perhaps? ) but it illustrates vividly the working methods of the Alsop studio.

Alsop would be the undisputed star of the show if he did not have to compete with the offices of Lords Foster and Rogers. Foster shows only the unsuccessful submission for the Ground Zero site, a commission that he fought hard for and should have won. The Rogers projects reflect the burst of energy and inventiveness that seems to be pervading his office at the moment - RRP has at last shaken off the trappings of High-Tech. It is hard to know what to make of Sir Michael Hopkins' proposed residential towers for Dubai - are they to be built? Again, more information on the project would be useful.

Among other big names making a strong impact at Burlington House are Grimshaw, Ritchie, Jiricna and ABK - a 40-year-old practice, which seems to be strongly resurgent. Pete Hull's fantastic, Soanean celebration of the buildings of Richard MacCormac is one of five drawings in the exhibition by this highly talented draughtsman. Academicians have a right to show their works at the Summer Exhibition, but it seems a little self-indulgent for Leonard Manasseh RA to take up precious wall space with a series of rather average portrait sketches. Ted Cullinan's sketches of his project for Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, are, in contrast, a delight.Marks Barfield, neither a new practice nor yet a big name, is well represented - notably by an exquisite little model of a cafe for the BullRing (presumably in Birmingham).

About a third of the works on show are, to my taste, deeply dull - some, luckily, are hung so high on the walls that they can barely be seen. Some genuinely interesting work by Richard Horden, on the other hand, is marooned inaccessibly behind Alsop's Barnsley model. Classicists and other trads (no Quinlan Terry this year) make a poor showing - a dreary drawing of a pompous Neo-Georgian mansion, designed for Wafiq Said (of Oxford Business School fame), by Julian Bicknell; a minor watercolour by Donald Insall; and an interior by Carey Clarke (apparently an Honorary RA), which could have been painted in 1920, form the sum total. As usual, there is a huge canvas by Ben Johnson, this year a panorama of Zurich - the relevance of this work is unclear.

With most of the space allotted to big names (and foreigners, like Ando and Gehry, who get in as Honorary RAs), the scope for showing work by younger talents is limited.

Two, remarkably contrasting, schemes by Richard Jobson certainly impress.Amin Taha Architects' proposal for a building on London's Farringdon Road is another powerful piece of work - good new urban architecture. Guy Greenfield, whose Hammersmith health centre was on the Stirling shortlist, shows two projects for the West Country, an increasingly fertile region for bold new design. Buckley Gray's Rural Retreat is a memorable idea, memorably presented. Jan Kattein's working model of a deliberately wobbly bridge - the motion generated by those passing across it generates electricity - is irresistible. I particularly liked Jonathan Pile's Hedge House, which makes a virtue out of the British obsession with surrounding houses with gloomy walls of greenery.

While there are lots of interesting and original ideas here, it would be difficult to discern much of the emerging architectural scene from this selection.

Many who pass quickly through the architecture room (no longer, thankfully, relegated to a dead-end space at the end of the show) will linger in Sky High, a whole room of models of tall buildings assembled by Foster and including his own Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, Frankfurt Commerzbank, Century Tower and Swiss Re; the last a project that has itself changed attitudes to high buildings in London and (just possibly) opened the way for Renzo Piano's London Bridge Tower. The 'Shard' itself features in a display that also includes work by Pelli, Rogers, KPF, SOM and others. Foster, it is plain, believes that the urge to build high is both natural and progressive, something that has preoccupied humans for millennia.

The display - inevitably, given the relatively modest dimensions of the Academy's galleries - lacks the impact of Deyan Sudjic's spectacular hall of towers at the 2002 Venice Biennale, but the sheer concentration of models, some specially made, and the variety of their forms and finishes should broaden some minds dulled by the static nature of the tall buildings debate in London.

Foster's exhibit is unashamedly didactic and polemic, proclaiming the potential of tall buildings, appropriately located, to enrich skylines and provide energy-conscious living and working spaces. It provides a useful antidote to attitudes, all too common in this country, that seek to throttle innovation and invention while sanctioning mediocre sprawl. For this room alone, the Summer Exhibition is not to be missed.

The Summer Exhibition is on until 10 August.

For further information call 020 7300 8000 or visit www. royalacademy. org. uk

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Sir Michael Hopkins Model of offshore residences, Dubai 'It is a beautiful model. It is extraordinary that one office is so versatile, as evidenced by this and the very different model of the proposed remodelling of Burlington Gardens'

COMMENDED

Richard MacCormac Drawing by Pete Hull, celebrating Richard MacCormac's buildings 'An extraordinarily complex, composite drawing that manages to pull a vast array of work into a coherent whole'

The judges also gave special mention to: Sir Nicholas Grimshaw Pattern for the model of the roof of Southern Cross Station, Melbourne Kohn Pedersen Fox Model of the Environmental Department for the Study of Ecology and Nature at Tel Aviv University Ian Ritchie Triptych of etchings of Potters Fields Richard Rogers Print of the cultural complex, Sabadell, Spain Michael Manser Ink and graphite drawing of The Welch Residence, Isle of Wight Louis Hellman Drawings of homes designed for Tony Blair, George Bush and the Queen Peter Cook Four mixed-media drawings of Madrid

FIRST TIME EXHIBITOR £5,000 WINNER

Neil Wenman

No Man's Land, collage and ink on paper 'This is a beautiful cut-out.

Although you cannot tell whether it is a plan or an elevation, by trying to describe it this way, it makes you want to know more. We know it is architecture, and we know it is wonderful composition'

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Jan Kattein Model of a wobbly bridge for - a structure designed to generate electricity - for Kai Tak City 'We commend it for its joy, humour and an original idea. It has a charming Heath Robinson quality. You would expect music to come out of it, like a music box' The judges also gave special mention to:

Buckley Gray Architects and A Models Rural Retreat (shown on page 22) Homin Kimn Slow-Down-Towns, digital print Jordi Truco Calbert Genr(8)ing Malca Mizrahi Metabestiary, a digital image Paul La Tourelle On the Make, Bridge in the Alps, digital print

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