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The Diary of an Anonymous Architect #12

The latest in an ongoing series about the day-to-day travails of an experienced and embattled practitioner. This week: ‘regional’ awards

Building me a home, thinking I’d be strong there, But I was a fool, playing by the rules…..Abba/B Andersson, B Ulvaeus, A Kortnev

Just back from staycation in Scotland – cold, wet, magnificent aye but also hot, sunny and magnificent.  Either way, a rare treat.  At one of our more remote stopovers, deep in legendary landscape, we came across an architectural couple with rather stronger links to Scotland than mine.

Late at night we shared scary stories of architectural derring-do over a couple of dinners and the odd single malt.  They took the prize with this one…..

Apparently over several years they ‘d occasionally been invited critics at end of year student shows, judged various competitions and been on selection panels for RIBA Regional Awards – or as they more often said ‘so-called Regional Awards’.

It turns out their jaundiced view somewhat depends on what you think the regional awards are for. Possibly for outstanding works of architecture built in the regions? Or, and this is where their serious disillusion had taken hold, recognition for the architectural works of regional practices.

This fine distinction was new to me.

The RIBA Awards apparently attract a rich mix of built works.  New practitioners hoping to make their mark, established local practices hoping for some recognition of their skills – especially important in these harsh times – teachers honing theory into practice and the great and the good from outside the region who’ve found success with big spenders such as the Lottery or some other multi-billion government funded programme.

But to their growing amazement they’d found that the selection process did not seem to come with a level playing field for their deliberations…..

The quality of the selectors can be as varied as the quality of the work submitted. And, they told me, the group dynamic can play as important a role in the selection process as the refreshments provided.

One had a story of a project they thought showed great skill, restraint and subtle reverence for an existing building.  A local committee drone on the panel who visited the project apparently declared it ‘not architecture’. 

The other was more worried about a different kind of shoo-in.  Apparently if the panel decided not to select a building lavishly funded by government or overlooked a project submitted by a London-based starchitect in favour of something by the locals then there was a feeling - rightly or wrongly - that head office would over-ride the decision and shortlist it anyway. One more malt and they declared in unison that this was nothing less than droit de seigneur.  These champions take prized regional projects and deny regional practices. And lest we locals dare forget they are then awarded highly regarded mementos of their exploits. 

Are there more important considerations on the agenda here than simply the quality of work our regional practices can achieve?

With the ghosts of Bannockburn skirling nearby we three swore a wee oath - should we be fortunate enough to design something we feel some pride in, we’ll keep it to ourselves – at least until someone sorts the playing field.

Or we could always declare independence and set up some regional ‘Regional Awards…..’   

Readers' comments (1)

  • At least people care enough about Architecture in the UK . Even this blog and the anecdote reflect a passion for Architecture , a reverence for one's culture and a desire to create continually.

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