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editorial

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ABK's British Embassy in Russia opened this week. The embassy is a fine example of the considered contemporary architecture which the practice has consistently delivered over the last 40 years. Sixteen years ago, ABK's design for the extension to the National Museum was, famously, dismissed by the Prince of Wales as 'a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend' and was subsequently dropped. The new British Embassy has also attracted comment at the highest level, but this time the accolades are glowing.

Tony Blair has described it as 'a symbol of the United Kingdom's commitment to Russia', adding that 'in its contemporary architecture and art it represents the modern Britain of today.'

Poundbury, the idyllic Dorset settlement to which the prince put his name, has also found favour this week.

After years of being derided as little more than pastiche, it has been described in a Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions report as a shining example of community development. There are still those (notably former RIBA president Max Hutchinson) who see the project as forever damned by the fact that it was built in the middle of the Dorset countryside rather than on an urban brownfield site. But the prince himself has mollified detractors by opting to house the Prince of Wales Institute in a converted inner-city warehouse. The days when it was virtually impossible to have a say in the architectural debate without being categorised as either 'for' or 'against' the prince seem very far away.

Partisan hysteria has given way to considered praise, and architects in general are basking in a glow of national approval. Architecture has lost its maverick status and found friends not only in high places but in all walks of life.

The widespread popularity of buildings such as the Walsall Art Gallery and the Tate Modern suggests that the profession and the public are in agreement over what constitutes good architecture. But consensus is a short step away from complacency. Is the current spate of civilised back-slapping really a sign of a new-found maturity or an indication that architecture has lost its critical edge?

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