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Shock at Bartlett clean sweep in RIBA President’s Medals awards

Surprise as London school takes all three of the RIBA’s top student prizes

Educators are ‘astonished’ after learning that the Bartlett students have won all three of this year’s RIBA President’s Medals.

University College London’s high-profile architecture faculty surprised rivals by bagging every one of the institute’s prestigious student awards earlier this week.

In an unprecedented outcome, both the Silver and Dissertation medal-winners were taught by the same tutor, Stirling Prize nominee Niall McLaughlin.

McLaughlin commented: ‘The Bartlett is a very confident school with extremely good students. This is a real boost. Different architecture schools have different styles and this year is the Bartlett’s year.’

AA unit master Piers Taylor of The Invisible Studio commented: ‘The Bartlett is the most interesting school right now, with the most interesting people at all levels. I’m not surprised that three medals have gone to the Bartlett. Anything else would be provincial tokenism.’

But Oxford Brookes senior lecturer Harriet Harriss said this year’s awards suggested that the focus of architectural education was ‘narrowing, rather than broadening’. She said: ‘It’s concerning.

‘To give all the prizes to a school with a strong house aesthetic seems to be the opposite of where the profession is going.’

The Bartlett’s hat-trick has also raised concerns about the predominance of the London schools of architecture. Since 2008, 15 out of the 18 medals awarded have gone to London schools. The only schools outside the city to have won medals in that period have been the University of Strathclyde, the Mackintosh School of Architecture (both in Glasgow) and the University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

This year, commendations went to just one school outside the capital, De Montfort University in Leicester, with a spike in international recognitions. Students from Bulgaria’s University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, University College Dublin and the National University of Singapore netted commendations.

Mackintosh School of Architecture head of school Christopher Platt said he had no issue with London’s dominance. He said: ‘There is not a hidden agenda. It’s a fairly intensive and introverted architectural culture in London, but I don’t think this has spilled into the schools.’

‘I think it is great news for the Bartlett and I wish it was our school,’ added Platt.

However, Alan Dunlop, visiting professor at Scott Sutherland School of Architecture in Aberdeen, said: ‘I find it astonishing that one school should win both the Silver and Bronze Medal and also the prize for best dissertation. I am very surprised that other projects have not received better recognition from the RIBA.’

The controversy comes two years after the President’s Medals were criticised by Patrik Schumacher for failing to recognise projects based on real world briefs (AJ 16.02.12).

Defending this year’s medals, Will Hunter, who judged the dissertation prize, said: ‘The judging process is completely anonymous and – unlike architectural competitions – it is very hard to place the students until their universities are revealed at the end of the day.’

RIBA President’s Medal winners 2008-2012

2012 Silver: London Metropolitan University; Bronze: Architectural Association; Dissertation: University College London

2011 Silver: University College London; Bronze: Architectural Association; Dissertation: University of Melbourne

2010 Silver: University of Westminster; Bronze: Mackintosh School of Architecture; Dissertation: University of Westminster

2009 Silver: University of Westminster; Bronze: Architectural Association; Dissertation: University of Westminster

2008 Silver: University of Strathclyde; Bronze: University of Greenwich; Dissertation: University of Westminster

Readers' comments (2)

  • I am sure that Niall will not mind me pointing out that Unit 17 is run by three tutors, as follows in alphabetical order:
    Yeoryia Manolopoulou, Niall McLaughlin & Michiko Sumi.

    Well done all.

    James O'Leary, The Bartlett, UCL

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Thanks James. Quite right. We should not overlook Tamsin Hanke's Dissertation Supervisor Sophia Psarra.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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