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No architecture prizes for RA show as Lend Lease pulls sponsorship

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition’s major cash honour goes way of the Stirling Prize as architecture ‘loses its place in public spotlight’

None of the works selected for the architecture room at this year’s Royal Academy (RA) Summer Exhibition will be given prizes.

The prestigious institution in London’s Piccadilly has traditionally handed out £10,000 to the best in show and a further £5,000 for the best entry by a first-time exhibitor.

However, for the first time since 1983, the Academy will not award any prizes for architecture after long-term supporter Lend Lease decided to withdraw its sponsorship of the annual event.

The lack of support for the RA’s architecture show comes less than a year after the shock removal of the £20,000 cash jackpot for the winner of the 2013 Stirling Prize. Victors Witherford Watson Mann became the only practice in the prize’s 18-year history not to take home a cheque following the RIBA’s failure to find a sponsor for the high-profile award.

Royal Academician and exhibitor Will Alsop said: ‘It is looking a bit bleak for us poor old architects on the prize front.

‘It’s a pity. The RA prizes have been around for years – long enough to become a custom. I can’t believe that neither the RIBA nor the Royal Academy can find other sponsors – it is not a huge amount of money.’ 

Alsop said architecture had lost its place in the public spotlight. He added: ‘Architecture was never very sexy, until Prince Charles made his speech then there was an unbelievable amount of coverage in the 1990s. However, it has gone downhill again in the media.’

Royal Academician Eva Jiricna agreed: ‘It is very sad to see that architecture does not attract sponsors the same way as art seems to do.’

Maria Smith of Studio Weave, which won the first-time exhibitor for the mock-up of its Freya’s Cabin at Kielder Water in 2009 said: ‘It is of course a shame. You could still give out prizes without any prize money. From my point of view the peer recognition is the main reason for entering – not the cash.’ 

In response, Royal Academician Eric Parry, who co-curated the show with Richard MacCormac, said: ‘I’m sorry there isn’t a prize. It might take the edge off the exhibition but in a way it is a bit of a relief.

‘There are so many that could have won prizes – the whole show should win a prize. It’s a feast. Where else would you find personal works by practitioners like Norman Foster next to first-timers?’

Explaining how the show was put together, Parry said: ‘[When curating the exhibits] in our mind we were looking for work that showed off the process of exploration.

‘In architecture exhibitions you find a lot more propositional schemes, rather than finished artwork.

‘I’ve tried not to let models dominate the architecture room. I’ve attempted to create a flow so when you enter the room you are not confronted with a labyrinth. The models are put on two plinths, allowing the walls a lot of freedom.’

This year’s architecture room includes more than 140 works, ranging from models by Thomas Heatherwick to submissions by smaller practices and students.

There will be ten prizes given out to the artworks exhibited in the rest of the wider show.

The show runs from 9 June until 17 August.

Other comments:

Sara Shafiei and Ben Cowd, overall winners in 2012, said: ‘It is a great shame there will be no sponsor and consequently no prize money for this year’s Architecture Room at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
‘Winning the drawing prize as a student (Sara Shafiei) and later the Grand prize for Architecture (Cowd and Shafiei) has funded design research and exhibitions we could not have afforded to do normally. It was the biggest prize accessible to all architects and students; young, old, famous and upcoming: Honouring the skill and craftsmanship of the drawings, models and artefacts produced every day in the pursuit of designing great buildings and spaces. We hope a sponsor can be found for future exhibitions.’

Mike Russum of Birds Portchmouth Russum, overall winners in 2011 said: ‘This is very disappointing. The remarkable egalitarian display of architecture at the RA summer show provides an annual barometer of architectural possibility. That exquisite ideas and presentations are left unhonoured is a sad indictment of our profession and the wider construction and development industries.

This reveals the deep cultural crisis afflicting architecture

‘How sad that those who profit from the imagination and creativity of architects turn away from offering reward and celebration of their enterprise. It reveals the deep cultural crisis that afflicts architecture, an endeavour considered by the founders of the RA as being the mother of all the arts.’

Ian McChesney, an exhibitor in this year’s show said: ‘I’m not suggesting that our entry is necessarily a worthy winner, but I guess someone should get something. It’s especially nice for first time entrants and students that manage to get something in.  A small medal would have been a very nice gesture.’

Response from the Royal Academy:

‘[Our] annual Summer Exhibition is the world’s largest-open submission exhibition, enabling emerging and renowned artists and architects to showcase their work side by side.  The majority of the works on display are for sale, of which a portion of the proceeds go towards the RA Schools.

‘We understand that the motivation for artists and architects is to be part of an exhibition that will attract large audiences. It is only in recent years that sponsored prizes have been awarded to artists and architects taking part in the Summer Exhibition, based on decision of a panel of independent judges. The prizes have changed over the years depending on available support and interest. Last year 12 prizes were awarded across the mediums of painting, architecture photography, drawing and prints.

We are open to discussions with sponsors for the future

‘This year we do not have an architecture prize but we are open to discussions with sponsors for the future.

‘We receive more than 12,000 entries each year, which are judged by a committee of Royal Academicians and only 1,200 works are selected to be hung and awarded a place on the walls.

‘It is an opportunity for architects to exhibit their works alongside established and emerging artists in an exhibition that receives over 150,000 visitors, with the prospect of selling works if they wish. While the sponsored prizes play a role in the exhibition, they are also very much secondary to the intention of the Summer Exhibition.

 

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