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Opinion - Architecture Foundation

Failure to get a new public building will not hinder the Architecture Foundation, writes Rowan Moore.

The Architecture Foundation (AF) exists to cultivate, support and encourage good architecture in the UK, with the aim that the public understanding and experience of the built environment is enhanced. Our effects can be direct, as with the public places and buildings we have helped bring about, such as Tonkin Liu’s Promenade of Light in Old Street. Many of the best practices around – Ian Simpson, de Rijke Marsh Morgan, 6a, Carmody Groarke – have received significant boosts to their careers from AF projects. We also hope to give our audiences and participants memorable and powerful insights into architecture.
Since our foundation in 1991 we have been part of a movement that has seen architecture rise dramatically in political and public awareness. The key to achieving this is our programme of events, exhibitions, education and competitions. This week we release the exceptionally good news of a
£250,000 donation towards enhancing our programme. It is the largest donation of this kind that the AF has ever received.
We are also announcing that we will not proceed with our project to create a new building in Bankside, London.
This is certainly disappointing, after the committed efforts of many people, including Zaha Hadid Architects, Allies and Morrison, Adams Kara Taylor, Max Fordham, the prospective contractor Rooff and the project sponsor Land Securities, to get it to an advanced stage. However we felt that, in the
current economic and fundraising climate, this was the right thing to do. A building is an instrument to achieve certain ends: there was a danger that the project would not be the right instrument in the changed world which we have now entered.
For six years, the AF has been operating without a fixed public space, creating events and projects in locations including Tate Modern, the Wapping Project, and BDP’s offices. Our events usually sell out. Great though the new building would have been, we have shown that we can run a strong programme without it. The experience of pursuing the building project has highlighted the complexity of creating public cultural buildings.
A Lebanese lawyer who became a Japanese citizen once told me that the process was like running up and down Mount Fuji three times. Putting up cultural buildings is similar, when you are entirely reliant on the support of the private sector and private donors, even though the extent to which they do support projects like this is magnificent.
The AF has always been about finding ways to encourage new ideas and debate, and the public understanding of architecture. In the immediate future, our primary site will be London. La lotta continua.

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