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Katherine Shonfield

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Barcelona's RIBA Gold Medal is a welcome sign that the institute is turning from professional protectionism to the promotion of the possible: the very best practice in architecture and what it can do for cities.

The timing of the medal is excellent. The architectural world, in the persona of Ricky Burdett, then director of the Architecture Foundation, brought to public attention what Barcelona achieved through power-wielding city government, and a visionary mayor. The Architecture Foundation debates on London in 1996 were instrumental in getting a mayor and assembly for London into Labour's election manifesto.

Today, the medal for Barcelona may be crucial in helping to halt the current dumbing down of the mayoral contest. One of the most effective, and un-English, ways of doing this is to re-focus debate on a future vision for London.

The mayor is only one third of the battle. number of Barcelona lessons centre round an unfashionable concept: unity. Despite the well recognised particularities of London districts, London desperately needs Londoners to get some built equivalent to reading the Evening Standard: a visual confirmation that we belong to one place. Planners should take good note: Barcelona succeeded in this not through the crass superficialities of uniformity - be it paving, lighting, or cornice lines.

It was won through a commitment to the extension of identifiable public space and public possession in every project, from road building to planting to museums to stadia, that they could lay their hands on.

The importance of this year's medal is not what we have done for Barcelona but what Barcelona can now do for us.

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