One might imagine that the RIBA Awards Group was taking a well-earned rest after this year's Stirling Prize. But not at all. Less than one month after the ceremony, the members began the long slog that will lead up to next year's presentation.
Indeed, when one looks at the complexity of the process, the surprise is not that the awards committee needs all year to get it done but that each year's awards can be completed within a single year. This is not through a perverse addiction to bureaucracy but because of the entirely laudable determination to give every decent project a shot at winning whatever it might be eligible for.
The high-profile, glamorous exertions of the Stirling Prize judges are just the tip of the iceberg. The awards committee and dedicated regional judges do a stack of work before those judges ever get a sniff of the shortlist.
This year, 342 projects were submitted for the RIBA Awards, most in the UK but some elsewhere in Europe. The cost of submission was between £58.75 and £293.75, depending on the size of the project. All UK projects were judged on a regional basis by a panel of three for each region. The RIBA Awards Group selects the chair of that panel and also a lay judge. The third member is selected by the region. And in case there should be any unconscious bias, architects of schemes that are not successful one year are encouraged to resubmit them the following year.
The panel then draws up a longlist of buildings and visits them. No building can be eliminated without a visit. From these it produces its proposed list of winners which goes to the RIBA Awards Group for consideration, alongside the other regions. The reason for this, explains Ian Davidson, chair of the RIBA Awards Group, is to ensure consistent standards around the country. The awards group can suggest that an excluded project should receive an award, or that one that is proposed for an award is not worthy. Typically there are two or three changes.
Projects in Europe are dealt with in a different way. Because there is no regional structure, representatives of the awards group visit these projects and decide which are worthy to receive an award.
From all these deliberations the winners of the RIBA Awards for Architecture are decided. This year there were 49 in the UK and four overseas.
Next comes the shortlisting for the special prizes and the Stirling Prize. For the special prizes, the judges draw up shortlists from all the winning schemes, taking into account the recommendations of the regional judging panels. This year a total of 26 projects appeared on the shortlists.
For the Stirling Prize the awards group draws up a longlist and visits all the selected projects.'We have tried to go as a complete group to a number of buildings in one day, ' explains Davidson. 'This helps us establish a benchmark.' Group members then split up to visit the other longlisted projects, with at least three members seeing each scheme. The group has a lengthy debate about all the schemes before drawing up a shortlist.
The individual awards all have their own judging criteria, with the sponsors usually selecting the panel. In the case of the Stirling Prize, the RIBA Awards Group appoints the judges, although there is a fairly fixed formula.
This year's judges were Will Alsop, as last year's winner, the AJ's Paul Finch, as a representative of this year's sponsor, and Marco Goldschmied, as the president's representative. The group usually tries to get an 'interesting architect, ' says Davidson, but decided that this year's triumvirate was sufficiently heavyweight, so it turned its attention to finding some informed lay people - Alice Rawsthorn and Janet Street-Porter.
At which point the awards group stands back, merely demanding that the judges dedicate two or three days of their time, and that they visit the buildings in a group.
The awards group can then start thinking about the event - and the future. Davidson has already established priorities for next year. They include: 'Improving the quality and the standard of the judges. I am interested in trying to encourage a broader range of schemes to be submitted. We have already reviewed the conservation award this year so that it will be on a different basis with more pure conservation. I want to further the effort to expand the range of experience and ability of the awards group itself, introducing more lay people to the process.'
While this year's televisation programme was better than last year's, he wants to see that improvement continuing. 'The show has to get more professional, ' he said. 'And we should have a better party. I think the Stirling Prize award, and the party and the coverage, is the premier event of the year. I don't see why these are architect-only events. I would like to encourage government and the industry to take an interest.'
So we may have had a popular winner, extensive media coverage and a glitzy party this year - but Davidson believes the best is still to come. Now that is something for the profession to look forward to.
MEMBERS OF THE RIBA AWARDS GROUP 2001
Ian Davidson, Lifschutz Davidson (chair) Robert Adam, Robert Adam Architects Stephen Hodder, Hodder Associates Louisa Hutton, Sauerbruch Hutton Amanda Levete, Future Systems David Page, Page and Park Eric Parry, Eric Parry Architects Joanna van Heyningen, van Heyningen and Haward Paul Finch, publishing director, The Architects' Journal Amanda Baillieu, editor, RIBA Journal Sir Christopher Howes, chief executive, Crown Estate Peter Mason, chief executive, AMEC Construction Jeremy Till, head of school of architecture, University of Sheffield Giles Worsley, architecture correspondent, Daily Telegraph Tony Chapman, head of awards, RIBA