Brummie architect Graham Booth calls his shiny new mbe a 'medal for perseverance'; a vote of confidence in his practice's work on raising standards in Birmingham and one which came like a bolt from the blue.
But gongs, honours and awards are no strangers to the Birmingham practice of which Booth is a partner and joint founder - Associated Architects. The riba says the practice wins more of its awards than any others, and even last year's 30th birthday bash of the 32-strong firm took place (with specially commissioned music from Judith Weir) in one of its own award- winning buildings - the new home for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (aj 17/24.12.98). Other awards have come chiefly from education-sector buildings, predominantly in Birmingham, though the firm also figured in the recent riba/detr housing design awards.
As to the latest honour, Booth is modestly quick to try and deflect his mbe on to the work done by his colleagues - founding partners Walter Thomson, who retired last year, and Richard Slawson. This democratic gesture is consistent with the 1968 decision to name the new practice without including individual names ('because we hoped to grow and because this way we're also in the front of the telephone directory,' he jokes).
Now aged 60, Booth trained at the Birmingham School of Architecture from 1958-62 and was an riba Pugin student. He did two years in private practice work then taught at the school of architecture from 1965-73, during which time he met the pair who were to be his future 'aa' partners. In those days some assessment was devoted to private practice so the trio joined forces and set up an office in the University of Aston. By 1973 they decided to move away from education into practice, so set up full time. The rest has included milestones such as the School of Jewellery building in Birmingham, the college of art for the University of West of England, and the practice's own offices in the hitherto dilapidated St Paul's Square.
Booth says he is happy for the practice to continue 'beavering away' in local work in a city 'with no real reputation for good architecture.' There was a time during the height of the boom years when aa experimented with an office in Whitfield Street in London in premises it shared with Future Systems, but when it all went pear-shaped and the depths of the recession came, at the beginning of the 90s, the company 'retrenched' and closed its London outpost. 'This has always been our home', Booth says.