As Alvar Aalto so astutely said, it isn't what a building looks like on its opening that matters, but the way it looks after 30 years. Viewed in this light, the RIBA Awards are an imperfect measure of quality, a transitory judgement which can only be validated with the passage of time.
But the assessment of a building's longterm 'success' is equally subjective; an amalgam of user experience, professional approbation and public taste. Foster's Sainsbury Centre (see pages 87-91) is currently approaching its 30th birthday.
Viewed through the eyes of a less benevolent client it could have been regarded as an albatross.
Ostensibly an exercise in exible extendable architecture, it proved so stubbornly resistant to expansion that the Sainsburys opted to extend its undercroft rather than 'spoil' the building's perfect lines. The recent £10 million improvements to the circulation and technical performance could be cited as further evidence of its inability to keep pace with evolving demands.
But the Sainsburys remain enamoured of their building, and enamoured of their architect - so much so that they have remained loyal to Foster and Partners for all successive works.
In so doing, they have been able to realise the building's full potential. There have been none of the calls to have the Sainsbury Centre listed that might have erupted were the alterations to be trusted to anybody else. The building has remained very much 'live'; true in spirit, if not in form, to High-Tech's original mantra of exibility and change; a triumph not only of architectural vision, but of architectural custodianship at its best.
The buildings honoured in this year's RIBA Awards are innitely more likely to survive over time if they are allowed to evolve, and if the process of evolution is managed with integrity and care. A truly successful client/architect relationship is worth cultivating over time.
CONTRIBUTORS Andrew Holt, who photographs the Welsh Assembly Building on the cover and in the RIBA Awards feature on pages 25-86, is a London-based photographer Cecil Balmond, whose work features in the Sketchbook on page 106, is a structural engineer, specialising in innovative structures, and writer.
He is the deputy chairman of Arup Penny Lewis, who reviews the Marcel Breuer exhibition on pages 94-95, is the editor of Prospect, the Scottish architecture magazine, and a journalist based in Glasgow