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Thoughtfully useful

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Birmingham was the location for last week's first combined RIBA annual conference and national awards, and was generally reckoned to have been a success. Certainly the contributions from speakers including James Woudhuysen, Paul Hyett, Sunand Prasad, Robin Nicholson and Richard MacCormac were stimulating and provocative in equal part, while Ted Cullinan, Glen Howells and Richard Murphy provided terrific vignettes of their work and approach. Murphy excoriated a system in which an awardwinning architect like himself is more or less excluded from doing good social architecture because of the way schools are packaged up under PFI. Hyett was strong on the problems facing us because of the break-up of knowledge and expertise with the demise of the welfare state, which was most certainly not an attack on small practices, despite some rather dumb reporting to that effect.

Richard MacCormac was on top form with an acute analysis of how architecture and the creative industries found themselves pushed from the cultural end of the operational spectrum towards the commercial, and then back again. His argument for an acknowledgement that architecture sits in the middle of the spectrum, and that it can address both commerce and culture, indeed must do so to be fully effective, deserves wide discussion. In particular, his suggestion that architects must again become masters of cost, not to replace quantity surveyors but to have a broad and thorough understanding of all aspects of material and construction costs, is something which urgently needs addressing.

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