Those two 40 Under 40 events in 1985 and 1988 were, in their way, defining events for the current architectural generation of those over 50, writes Sutherland Lyall. Roughly two-thirds of the winners are now, if not exactly household names, somewhere on that gravelly ramp between C-list and the top of the B-list.
Given their relative youth at the time, a surprising number have stayed true to their original practices. Steve Baker, for example, moved from Arup Associates, but only in the exodus following Peter Foggo, to become a director in his new practice, Foggo Associates. Paul Collinge is still Aldington, Craig and Collinge, although he is now the only principal in the practice.
John Jenner is still at Greenhill Jenner. Pierre d'Avoine is still Pierre d'Avoine Architects. Ken Moth is still with BDP. Others, such as Will Alsop and John Lyall, have split up with the fierce heat of hostile divorce. David Chipperfield and Kenneth Armstrong, who appeared in the first 40 Under 40 exhibition, had already gone their acrimonious ways by the time the second one took place. Others parted more amicably. Lazenby and Smith, for example, broke up the partnership when Doug Smith decided that he wanted to work in a better climate and disappeared to the Bahamas - he is still practising there to this day.
But what did the participants think of getting on those two lists? Did it do them any good? Keith Williams, who has split from his then partner Terry Pawson and now heads Keith Williams Architects, says: 'They were exciting times and we were very pleased to be asked to exhibit in the show. It did help my career.
It established a benchmark for architectural quality and endeavour.
Terry Pawson and I had really only just started our practice.
It gave us some sort of peer recognition.' Asked whether it yielded any work, Williams says: 'These thing seldom lead to a job the following morning, but it was part of reputation-building.' Brighton-based architect Alan Phillips remembers the experience as being 'very valuable indeed.' He says: 'In an exhibition, a lot of people can see a lot of what you do. And we were in very good company, weren't we? If you put something in and an architect you respect says that you have some kind of talent, it gives you a bit of a lift and you are better prepared to deal with the exquisite pain that is architecture.' Martin Lazenby, then a partner in Lazenby and Smith, is quite certain that 40 Under 40 was a defining moment in his career. 'Absolutely. Completely, ' he says. 'We had only been set up for a year. I hadn't built anything and what we showed was all project work. Being selected for 40 Under 40 was a recognition of some sort. And at the time it did lead to a lot of work.' Others are less convinced that being included in the exhibition had a direct effect on commercial success. John Corrigan of Windsor-based Corrigan Soundy & Kilaiditi recalls:
'It was a confidence-booster. I don't think it really had a specific effect on us because at the same time we were in the RIBA Young Lions and we won a couple of competitions and they gave us a certain credibility as well. It all suggested a golden future.
The reality is that it's been all right.'
Amanda Levete, now co-boss at Future Systems, then in partnership with Geoffrey Powis, says: 'Influence? Not at all.
And there was no aftercare. Something like that Architecture Foundation book was really helpful for people because it was sent out to key clients. That's perhaps not so important now the culture has become a lot more supportive to architecture.' Charles Thomson, who entered with fellow Rock Townsend partner Ian Hay and colleague Dan Bone, and now runs the Rivington Street Studio, says: 'I think in the overall scheme of things that it didn't have any particular impact. I certainly wasn't aware of any sudden change of fortune or of it making much difference to the regard of my peers.' Bearing in mind that Thompson and Hay were unusually young to be directors of a substantial practice, and that this was a period when experience was considered far more valuable than youth, it could have been that winning a ranking among young architects was not particularly good for the corporate image. Thompson takes a pragmatic view of that. 'I guess it's the way you chose to market this sort of thing. Whatever, we enjoyed it at the time, ' he says.
David Harper, whose original practice Harper McKay recently split up and is now at Finlay Harper, says: 'Bear in mind that in 1988 we were driven by the Thatcher mentality of grabbing hard-cash opportunities with both hands, I don't remember being put on a list as a result of 40 Under 40. What I do remember is a whole gang ending up at Manchester School of Architecture to do a bunch of seminars.'
But everybody agrees that 40 Under 40 was an important condidence boost. Ian Simpson's experience is fairly typical: 'We were just at the very beginning of the practice and I submitted it individually, mainly with competition work. It told us that we could contribute and compete at a national level. So the major advantage for us was not that we generated any work from the competition, but that it gave us the confidence to give it a go.' Simpson's fond memories of the exhibition are only slightly marred by an unsolved mystery. 'One of the odd things that happened was that one of my panels was stolen - it was a hang-gliding centre for Lexan, designed at the end of the 1970s.' Whoever would have done that?
Sunand Prasad of Penoyre & Prasad agrees that 40 Under 40 instilled him with confidence: 'Yes, it cheered me up - especially as it was not long after I had left Cullinans. It was a big morale boost. In terms of work? Afterwards I got a phone call from a developer, I bet he was one of those late-1980s meteors. I said:
'I can't do anything as I'm going to be in India for the next year.' He said: 'I'm going to Delhi next week, ' but we never met up. I would agree with the self-confidence view. We all had a wonderful veneer of bravado, but everybody was racked with doubt.' Foggo director Steve Baker recalls: 'My mother kept copies of the original material and snaffled all 50 copies of the brochure at the opening - and she still has the little Ibstock brick issued with the awards.' As Amanda Levete concludes: 'It helped morale.
And still, it was great. And that was that.'