World's weird and wonderful forms open doors to experiment
Is Deconstructionism the new establishment? The RIBA's decision to award its Gold Medal to Frank Gehry is evidence that, even in stuffy old England, Deconstructionism has ceased to be seen as the preserve of exuberant undergraduates and obscure theoreticians.With the completion of the Cancer Care Centre in Dundee the UKwill have a Gehry concoction of its own, while the Imperial War Museum - North, the subject of this week's construction study, is introducing Manchester to Daniel Libeskind's own brand of shattered grids and organic shapes.
In importing architectural talent we tend to opt for the weird and wonderful: we get the Imperial War Museum - North; the Spiral at the V&A; and the Scottish parliament.
In return, we offer the rather more controlled aesthetic in which our home-grown architects excel: the Moscow embassy; the Reichstag; and Hong Kong airport come to mind. It is perhaps not surprising that international architects tend to land the most flamboyant commissions. The most imaginative clients are more willing to take a punt on the unknown, but do not wish to be seen as settling for second best. An architect who is untested in this country, but of undoubted status in their own, is proof that the client institution is both adventurous and an international player.
But there is some compensation for UK architects. The rise of increasingly outlandish architecture is changing perceptions. Ten years ago, it would have been unlikely that Charles Jencks could have tempted the likes of Gehry with a relatively modest building in Dundee - a commission which would have looked certain to stagnate in planning, or to collapse under the weight of public disapproval. And now that the likes of Gehry and Libeskind are building here, it should become easier for UKarchitects to gain acceptance for more experimental work. If Zaha Hadid's scheme for the Welsh Opera House was being submitted for approval today it might well have seen the light of day. Amanda Levete claims that Future System's Selfridges project in Birmingham was more readily accepted by planners and the public thanks to Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim. And for that alone, Gehry's Gold Medal is well deserved.