Put two architects, a structural engineer, a university professor and an architectural publisher in front of 100 buildings and you are likely to get some pretty robust comments on design. So it proved at the judging for the 12th Colorcoat Building Awards.
The architects were Rab Bennetts, a past chair of the RIBA competitions group, and Paul Monaghan of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. The engineer was Hanif Kara of the Adams Kara Taylor partnership. The professor (also an engineer) was Phil Jones, chair in architectural science at the Welsh School of Architecture. And the publisher was Paul Finch OBE, editorial director of The Architects' Journal. No shrinking violets there, then; and certainly no shortage of stimulating discussion and forthright opinion.
An eclectic range of buildings was put before them, ranging from very large schemes like the Odyssey Arena in Belfast to intimate projects such as a barn conversion in Yorkshire. All featured paint-coated steel in the building envelope: the competition is sponsored by Corus, maker of Colorcoat, the UK's most widely specified steel cladding material. Over the past 18 years, the Colorcoat Building Awards have played a major role in getting metal cladding recognised for its aesthetic as well as its functional properties: at the beginning of the judging, Rab Bennetts observed: 'There's a lot to play for with these materials.'
The quality of many of the public buildings found little favour. Looking at one of the schools entered, Paul Finch considered it 'one of the few educational buildings we've seen that hasn't been repulsive', and the Clore Tikva School, Ilford, by the Tooley & Foster Partnership, went on to win a commendation. During the discussion that followed Finch's remark, the panel all agreed that they had seen 'quite a few depressing schools that are going to fail, like we were building 30 years ago'.
By general consensus, Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes were thought to be grinding down design quality. 'The case for cheap and fast diminishes design quality, and poor designs go through on the nod, ' said one judge.
Another area to come in for robust criticism was the retail park. 'The challenge is to design a retail park that actually has some merit, ' said Hanif Kara. The main point of concern was the proliferation of giant entrance canopies - 'all this fussy stuff on the front, urbanism gone to pieces'. The panel observed that a lot of people think metal cladding means cheap and nasty, so they add gimmicks, when simple, restrained design is all that is needed. Rab Bennetts summed up: 'Utter restraint gets you a long way.' Everyone agreed that for Colorcoat as a material, simplicity is the key.
It was not just the canopies, but doors in general that caught the attention of the judges. Why not integrate entrance closures with the cladding - fold it, roll it or curl it like a sardine tin, they said. Right on cue, along came a scheme where the clever design of the doors did much to win it the Innovation Award. And the Indoor Cricket Centre for Warwickshire County Cricket Club, by David Morley Architects and Bryant Priest Newman, went on to take the top prize, the main trophy and £10,000.
Comment flowed fast and free. 'Interesting use of colour, and who would have thought that a simple roof like that would cover so large and complex a building.'
'Most of the entries use profiled sheet - seems like the love affair with flat panels has lost its passion.'
'The bigger the shed, the more likely it is to be designed by technicians, not designers.'
Finally, decisions had to be made. The field was whittled down to just 38. Then to 25. And finally to 17 considered worthy of nomination. From those, the judges chose the five category winners and the best overall. Congratulations to all concerned!