This year's award winners in the President's Medals (pages 23-38) demonstrate that student work at the turn of the millennium has undergone a dual coming of age. Firstly, environmental concerns have truly entered the mainstream. Where once we would have expected to see a token 'green' project wearing its credentials proudly on its sleeve, most of the winning schemes address issues of sustainability - but without allowing a sense of 'worthiness' to swamp the project. Secondly, today's students show a mature attitude towards both traditional and new means of representation. The projects use a happy mix of video, computer, crayon, pencil, model, charcoal, acetone transfer and Rotring pen, with an unpredictable match between matter and medium. Julia von Rohr's design for a natural dye factory and aromatherapy bath house, for example, won the Serjeant Award for its outstanding use of digital media. The judges praised the drawings for having a sensuality very different from the anonymity normally associated with computer-generated work. (The project achieved a hat trick by also winning theSilver Medal and the som Travelling Fellowship.)
Although Kath Shonfield's lament (page 16) suggests that there is a great deal of self-indulgent pomposity going on in architectural schools, it is evident that the best students are perfectly willing and able to tackle humble subjects - growing vegetables, recycling bits of car-park, housing the elderly - with authority rather than self-importance, and wit rather than earnestness.
It may be that in a healthy economy where promising graduates can be confident of finding work, they feel less pressure to produce a commercial portfolio and more able to produce work which they themselves enjoy. But it may also be that the quality of the work is a response to a shift in the profession as a whole.Students are as concerned as ever to makes themselves employable. But they expect to encounter clients and employers who no longer consider environmental awareness to be at odds with commercial sense, and who view an ability to produce images which delight and charm as an essential tool in the market-place.