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2009: The architectural year in headlines

From students in Scotland to princes in Chelsea, 2009 was a turbulent year in the world of architecture. David Chipperfield, Piers Gough, Ruth Reed, Paul Finch and others talk about the news that mattered most to them

Oxford Circus gains ‘desire line’ crossing

– AJ 05.11.09

THE NEWS: Based on the diagonal Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, the new £5 million public realm scheme designed by Atkins in the heart of London’s main shopping district was a first for the UK.

COMMENT: Peter Heath, public realm director, Atkins
‘Who could have predicted that a pedestrian crossing in London would make the front page of The Times, gain coverage across every UK national newspaper, television bulletins and become an international news sensation? Rather than a nightmare best avoided, for the first time in the 200 years since architect John Nash conceived it, visitors are actually talking about Oxford Circus as a new London meeting place.’

LSC College Scheme Delayed: Jobs Under Threat’

– AJ 22.01.09

THE NEWS: First signs were emerging that the multi-billion pound Learning and Skills Council college building programme was going badly wrong. Around 170 schemes looked set to lose funding

COMMENT: Peter Buchan, chief executive, Ryder Architecture
‘It’s been a year of two halves, and more than one story. The news over the LSC fiasco in January had a massive impact on practices like ours which had worked hard to establish themselves in the further education sector. I’ve never followed the press as closely as over those first few months whilst the sorry incompetent saga gradually unfolded. Thankfully things could only get better.’

Alsop shock: ‘Art career was a ruse, I’m off to RMJM’

– AJ online 01.10.09

THE NEWS: Will Alsop had previously declared he was retiring from architecture to focus on painting. This, it turned out, was a smokescreen to hide a move from Archial to RMJM

COMMENT: Piers Gough, partner, CZWG Architects
‘Ian Martin’s version of the news is always memorable, being so hilarious. So Will Alsop “getting painted” (AJ 13.08.09) was a horribly witty reminder of just how difficult it is to have talent and be a really interesting architect in this country. [Those] who make poetic architecture here get a very hard time indeed.’

Richard Rogers wins Stirling Prize for Maggie’s Centre

– AJ online 18.10.09

THE NEWS: In the year of his bruising public row with Prince Charles, Richard Rogers receives British architecture’s top award

COMMENT: Peter Bishop, group director of design, development and environment, London Development Agency
‘Great designs are emerging in places like Barking and Dalston, and Design for London’s East London Green Grid has won a number of awards. [But] there have been few great buildings completed in 2009, though Renzo Piano’s St Giles Court is taking shape. [So] it was great to see Rogers win the Stirling Prize for Maggie’s Centre.’

 

Anger at funding cut plans for architecture courses in Scotland

– AJ 12.11.09

THE NEWS: The Scottish Funding Council provoked the wrath of architectsby unveiling plans to downgrade the course and slash studentfunding by 22 per cent

COMMENT: Gordon Murray, partner, gm + ad Architects
‘Two seemingly disparate issues from 2009 in a manner of seven degrees of separation illustrate the interconnectivity of all events.  For us, the trauma of halving the size of the practice in the face of a rapidly changing market after having spent ten years building it while maintaining a competitive design office, was the most significant event of 2009 by far. In education, the Scottish Funding Council proposals to reduce funding to Scottish schools of architecture by up to 22 per cent, which would be a significant blow to the delivery of excellence in education, calls into question the government’s recognition, or lack of it, of architecture as a cultural activity.’

Richard Rogers: Prince Charles ‘single-handedly destroyed’ Chelsea Barracks

- AJ online 16.06.09

THE NEWS: The architect speaks out about Prince Charles’ conversations with the Qatari royal family – owners of Chelsea Barracks – which he blames for his practice being kicked off the controversial London scheme

COMMENT: Jack Pringle, former RIBA president
‘Chelsea Barracks – what better place to act out the story of brash commoner entrepreneurs enmeshed in the clash between a Lord and British and Arabian princes? It was no fairytale; the heir to our throne circumvented the due process he is destined to uphold by a direct appeal to his royal counterparts in Qatar to sack their architect, whose work is not to his taste. Where’s the democratic monarchy in that?’

COMMENT: Simon Allford, co-founder AHMM


‘At Chelsea Barracks HRH struck again. Unconstitutionally many argued. This time the profession was smarter, invited him to talk, listened politely to his romantic, mystical meanderings and quickly moved on. The result was more of a debate about HRH’s style than architectural style. At the Olympics, where it’s been going rather better than any of us dared hope. And of the recession, well it’s bad, but thankfully the stories of liquidation have been few. No doubt all three will come back again and again in 2010: unlike Dubai!’

Chelsea Barracks saga: Rogers seeks £1.5 million from Qataris

– AJ online 19.10.09

THE NEWS: Richard Rogers wasn’t going totake his departure from the scheme lying down and instructs lawyers to recoup his fees

COMMENT: Richard Rogers, chairman, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (speaking to The Guardian)
‘Chelsea Barracks [was the low point of the decade]. Unpleasant interference, unpleasant loss of a major scheme. More than 80 meetings were held over more than two years with community groups, statutory consultees and Westminster’s planning committee steering group. The majority were in favour until Prince Charles introduced the concept that it’s better to look backwards than forwards. I don’t think that’s symptomatic of the general climate in British architecture.’

Prince Charles to bury hatchet with architects

– AJ online 08.05.09

THE NEWS: Following his intervention in the Chelsea Barracks scheme, the Prince of Wales returned to RIBA HQ to share his latest views on architecture

COMMENT: Ruth Reed, RIBA president
‘The invitation to the Prince of Wales to give the RIBA’s Annual Lecture 25 years after his notorious “carbuncle” speech was an opportunity to put the rash comments of youth behind us. Leading up to the lecture there was debate about architecture across the media, amplified by speculation over the prince’s influence. What was clear was that there is considerable common ground, particularly on sustainability, that we will be building on.’

LSC debacle: Funding decision is a ‘kick in teeth’ say firms

– AJ online 02.06.09

THE NEWS: In a bid to salvage something from the LSC debacle, the government said it was providing emergency funding worth £300 million. Only 14 of the 170 college projects succeeded in winning any cash

Lee Bennett, partner and head of schools and colleges, Sheppard Robson
‘Education, education… but not tertiary education; as the next generation of car mechanics and beauticians struggle to influence government policy on vocational education building renewal, being ‘shovel ready’ wasn’t enough to save two of our FE colleges projects from the LSC funding cuts – and with the election looming, we are bracing ourselves to value engineer our already heavily value-engineered schools projects.’

Paul Rodgers, director, RMJM
‘When funding for hundreds of Learning and Skills Council-supported college projects dried up in early 2009, I don’t think anyone could have estimated the impact it would have on the construction industry. It meant high and lows for us as a practice. While we experienced project cancellations, we were also one of the lucky few who eventually had a project revived and our designs for Skelmersdale & Ormskirk College will now go ahead as planned. [Another good piece was] the creation of the ‘Will Alsop at RMJM’ studio in London. The announcement attracted significant interest from all quarters and has given RMJM’s London operations a huge boost.’

Morrell lands government role

– AJ 26.11.09

THE NEWS: Paul Morrell, the former deputy chair of CABE and ex-senior partner of consultancy firm Davis Langdon, became the government’s first construction adviser

Paul Finch

Paul Finch

COMMENT: Paul Finch, chair, CABE
‘The creation of a chief construction adviser will affect for the better the entire built environment sector. This represents an overdue recognition of the importance of this sector to the UK economy, to the population, and to policy-making in respect of energy generation and climate change. The appointment of Paul Morrell is an inspired one, since his understanding of the relationship between construction, design and policy is profound. This should herald a new sophistication in the way Whitehall thinks about construction in the round.’

Fears of ‘double-dip’ recession as more projects are put onhold

– AJ 23.07.09

THE NEWS: The number of shelved building projects increased for the second month in a row, prompting fears the downturn was worse than previously thought

COMMENT: Teva Hesse, head of London branch, C.F. Møller
‘The AJ’s reports on the state of the finance and construction industry have been far and away the key story of 2009. These demonstrate the profession’s vulnerability to wider economic forces. On the positive side, the recession has given our practice a chance to rethink the way we work and allowed us to research new approaches. This translates short-term pain into longer-term gain.’

HCA pumps £635 million into stalled housing

– AJ 14.05.09

THE NEWS: Scores of mothballed schemes were bailed out by the Homes and Communities Agency’s new Kickstart rescue fund, potentially creating 9,000 homes

Alex Ely, partner, mæ
‘The HCA’s Kickstart programme provided a much-needed injection of cash into stalled housing projects. [We are] fortunate to have projects moving forward as a result. But it has highlighted the vulnerability of our housing industry. We build homes to last 100 years yet this year we have seen how their construction is based on short-term financial thinking. We need to view the recession as an opportunity to create new models that capture long-term value by investing in quality.’

It’s a bloodbath: Architects savaged by the recession

– AJ 19.02.09

The AJ’s State of the Profession survey revealed a horrendous picture, with 65 per cent of practices reporting plummeting workloads and half announcing job cuts. The revelations came just days after Foster + Partners announced it was letting up to 400 staff go

Rab Bennetts, director, Bennetts Associates
‘I remember reading this article and thinking: what has 2009 got in store? As with the last major recession, it’s been a roller-coaster year but we’ve ended up with the same number of people as a year ago, which is quite an achievement. Jobs that seemed safe have been cancelled; other projects have appeared out of nowhere; loyal clients have rung up with feasibility studies. Versatility and perseverance is the name of this particular game. The most shocking thing has been the extent to which reputable large firms have been crucifying their fees, storing up trouble for them and their clients alike. We just won’t go there.’

David Chipperfield, founder, David Chipperfield Architects
‘Personally, of course the completion and opening of the Neues Museum dominated my year. I suppose for the profession the recession has probably been the biggest influence, changing the economic and intellectual climate. I am optimistic that this will, along with a growing awareness of environmental issues, bring us all back from a period of unquestioned excess.’

Julius Shulman (1910-2009)

– AJ online 16.07.09

THE NEWS: The American architectural photographer who popularised California modernism passed away

COMMENT: Adam West, partner, CZWG Architects
‘One of architecture’s greatest promoters, Julius Shulman’s carefully constructed photographs beautifully illustrated the casual close-to-nature lifestyle that was California modern. Working for the greatest architects of the era, his skills were first employed by Richard Neutra. As I discovered when writing my dissertation, years after being seduced by his glamorous photographs, Shulman did far more to sell the work of Neutra than the architect’s terrible writing ever could.’

Architecture school applications rise

– AJ online 18.02.09

The economic downturn appeared not to be deterring students from applying to architecture courses, with UCAS reporting a 6.7 per cent increase in applications

COMMENT: David Stanford, director, 3DReid
‘We’ve always been concerned about the long-term future of the profession and the exodus of talent before they have even qualified. This story gave us encouragement that architecture is still appealing but that we must also continue to promote the quality of our schools and students. It is essential if the profession is to be in a strong position to grow out of recession. It is why the 3DReid Student Prize is so important to us as a practice and why we will continue to run this in 2010.’

Designing for the Healthcare Sector

- AJ 25.06.09

THE NEWS: The AJ publishes a 26-page special feature about winning work in the healthcare sector, including studies of four naturally ventilated healthcare buildings

COMMENT: Beatrice Fraenkel, chair of the ARB
‘Informative and written in language that architects and non-architects can understand, the illustrations were spot on. I chair a Health Trust embarking on a build programme and gave this article to our project team .It sets out a context which shows the value and importance of architects in helping clients being more aspirational and maybe more sensitive to user requirements in their design briefs- vital. It’s about architects and architecture. Perfect combination.’

Survey: 9 out of 10 say ‘quality buildings make them happier’

- AJ online 16.09.09

THE NEWS: A poll for the government’s design watchdog, CABE, revealed that only three per cent of the population did not believe building quality impacted on their wellbeing. Nine out of ten people admitted that ‘better quality buildings and public spaces’ improved their quality of life

COMMENT: Irena Bauman, co-founder, Bauman Lyons
‘This was my favourite story and affirmed why being an architect is worth it.’

 

Readers' comments (3)

  • Very clever choices for the best Scottish buildings of the last decade, why is it not featured on the website? I am glad to see the often overlooked Museum of Scottish Country Life getting the recognition it deserves. It is Page and Park's best building, nothing else they have done since then comes close to it sadly.

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  • mmm, I agree that the chosen selection would probably represent the best buildings with perhaps one exception, the new scottish ballet school in glasgow, what a strange choice for the best scottish building of 2009. it is strange also about page and park, with the exception of the museum they seem to have made a succesful practice out of not upsetting anyone.

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  • Interesting to see that 2009 hasn’t put right the gap that is still clearly evident in our profession between men and women, even in your own article you only managed one comment from a woman – and that is only because she is the RIBA president. Let’s hope 2010 provides a more refreshing outlook.

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