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Reference points

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It would have been tasteless to propose a vote of thanks to the IRA for making possible two schemes on the shortlist, Ian Ritchie's Dublin Spire and, of course, Swiss Re. There could have been something else to raise a glass to, however: the 1960s.

Most of the shortlisted schemes owed their design thinking to that fabulous decade (whatever Tony Blair thinks). Foster explained to architecture minister Andrew McIntosh how the idea for the 'gherkin' had its origins in the thinking behind the Willis Faber office building in Ipswich, and obviously the Archigram boys are building out what they dreamed 40 years ago (Janet Street-Porter wore a 1965 silver dress in their honour). Dublin's Nelson's Column was destroyed in the '60s, and conceptually the urban design scheme at Coventry relates to that decade, with its public art and big symbolism. The claims made for the City Academy sounded very much like those made for comprehensives in about 1965. Of course, they lacked multi-millionaire 'sponsors'.

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