There were two sets of awards ceremonies held at the RIBA this week, coincidentally on the subject of housing. Both gave cause for optimism (for a change), and both marked a potential for initiatives embracing much more than the basic provision of architectural services. The first concerned the Europan 5 competition, at least the UK part of it. This competition has consistently promoted the work of architects under 40 interested in housing. If the ideal aim of building the winning schemes has been only patchily achieved, there is now a definite momentum about the event. Certainly Europan 6 should be supported, taking on board some of the suggestions from this year's UK chairman, Ian Ritchie, about how to stimulate greater interest, probably by simpler briefs and less long-winded programmes.
Particular encouragement for the future came from David Shelton, development director of English Partnerships, a co-sponsor of Europan 5. Speaking about the brakes which slow down or even stop schemes from being built, he noted that they often include promoters interested only in cost-cutting, and surveyors who claim that purchasers want only traditional dwellings. As a promoter and surveyor himself, he nevertheless applauded the fresh design thinking on display - and suggested that it was essential that all concerned in the housing market took it on board to achieve the targets we now believe are necessary.
The second set of awards were for zero CO2 housing, following a competition sponsored by the BRE to mark new guidance on sustainability, partly as a result of the work of Robert and Brenda Vale. The good news about this competition was the extent to which 'sustainable design' is moving away from a specialist ghetto to become part of mainstream thinking - again important for the future development of our (regenerated) cities. We can only hope that the philosophy underlying this competition, and the urban values inherent in Europan, will result in a new-found role for able designers as we continue to build for the next century. Let's not miss the boat.