Janet Street-Porter kicked off Architecture Week by reiterating an all-too-familiar gripe - that architects are very good at buildings but not so good at the spaces in between. As one of the judges for this year's Europan competition, I spent last Friday scrutinising architects' efforts to get to grips with this year's theme: 'In between cities' .The brief asked entrants to consider one of three large urban sites and to come up with a scheme that combined mixed-use buildings with a convincing strategy for the spaces in between.
Europan is one of the few institutions that allows unknown or inexperienced architects an equal playing field on which to display their talents - and the chance to get something built. It has established reputations and careers. In the process it has spawned exemplary housing projects in Europe, but not in the UK. Our track record is shameful.Winners have been selected and then, with numbing inevitability, momentum has dwindled and the projects are somehow lost - bogged down in the complexities of land ownership, funding, planning, development strategies, consultation and political in-fighting. The fact that 'in between spaces' form part of the architectural remit complicates the project to the point where it becomes unrealisable.
It is deeply frustrating for the winners and for all involved.But it is also hugely damaging for Europan in the UK, with many entrants now deliberately opting for non-UK sites.
This year's winners, to be announced next week, deal with buildings, roads, transport links, stretches of water and all the spaces in between. Their realisation will depend on the commitment and co-operation of all the myriad organisations this implies. All three sites are backed by enthusiastic clients, but they will need all the help they can get. One of the sites is in Manchester, for developer Urban Splash. The other two are owned by London boroughs - an ideal opportunity for the mayor to exploit the breadth of his influence and to offer a fitting finale to Architecture Week by publicly pledging to ensure that, this time round, the winning Europan schemes get built.