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AJ staff pick their top stories of 2017

2018 themes staff picks
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The AJ team looks back at a year of architectural news

1200px grenfell tower fire (wider view) 

1200px grenfell tower fire (wider view)

That June day was always going to be full-on. In the evening, one of the AJ’s signature events, the AJ100 Awards do in a pavilion at the Tower of London. And before that a 68-page edition of AJ Specification to pass for press. That month’s theme: Building Envelope. Hurrying to pick up my ‘events suit’ there was no time to catch the news headlines, so it was not until I arrived at the AJ office that I heard. The news team was all over it, obvs. Nothing I could do but get on with Spec. As the day wore on more details came out. People were being treated for inhalation of hydrogen cyanide. Speculation was focusing on the building envelope. As I say, you just get on with it. but, like on 9/11, the appalling affront to humanity gets to you. The horror. That evening we stood in the shadow of two towers.

Alan Gordon, production editor

Furious Scottish architects complain about ‘embarrassing’ RIAS pop-up

Rias house of horrors in glasgow central by helen lucas crop

Rias house of horrors in glasgow central by helen lucas crop

This (horror) story was very popular with AJ readers, and was the sixth-most read article of the year. A tweet by architect Michael Dougall tipped the AJ news desk off to the ‘clumsy’ and ‘offensive’ pop-up installation in Glasgow Central. Faced with a brace of angry Scottish architects, RIAS secretary Neil Baxter was forced to admit the pop-up hadn’t worked ‘practically or aesthetically’. The unhappiness continued when the structure was stripped of its blobby grey foam coat, facilitating only a minor improvement to what was meant to be a PR opportunity for Scottish architecture. Unfortunately for Baxter his woes continued a few months later when 100 Scottish architects called for a shake-up of the ‘self-satisfied’ RIAS, and he made a swift exit from the organisation.

Mary Douglas, head of engagement

Welsh government slams brakes on ‘insulting’ Iron Ring landmark

Gka iron ring 03

Gka iron ring 03

Wales seems to have a problem with architecture. Only four buildings in the principality were shortlisted for this year’s RIBA Welsh regional awards and – not for the first time – none went on to win a national prize. So it was with excitement that the AJ reported an international competition to design two landmarks commemorating ‘Welsh legends’. In July it was announced that one of these landmarks would be designed by George King Architects. The practice’s Iron Ring was a 7m-high, 30m-wide sculpture to be built at Flint Castle on Wales’s north coast. Sadly, the competition organisers had been staring out of the window during their Welsh history lessons, and were unaware that ‘iron ring’ was the name associated with English king Edward I’s string of fortifications used to subjugate and oppress the Welsh people. Within days a petition had been launched to halt the project, and seven weeks later the Welsh government had dropped the entire Welsh Legends programme, presumably giving up architecture as a bad mistake. Though as one AJ reader remarked, had the practice called its scheme ‘the Arc of Freedom’, there would presumably have been no problem with it.

Simon Aldous, deputy production editor 

Who won what at the AJ Architecture Awards?

ajaa 2017 grosvenor  84

ajaa 2017 grosvenor 84

In a challenging year for the profession, the inaugural AJ Architecture Awards were a welcome celebration of the best architecture in the UK – and a reminder of the critical importance of great design. We started out with a firm belief that we wanted to reward stand-out projects – and that we wanted to visit them, too. We knew it would be a big task. For one thing, it involved a complicated spreadsheet of judges, architects and clients – enough to make your eyes ache just looking at it! And there were a few last-minute visits to the farthest-flung corners of the British Isles to make sure that each of the 120 shortlisted projects was visited by at least two judges from our stellar panel.

What drove us forward was how deeply rewarding the visiting process was. Our judges saw so many excellent schemes throughout the autumn, and they each came back with firm favourites. It was a privilege to chair such intelligent and passionate discussions on the judging days – I was so impressed by the level of commitment and care that all our judges displayed. Picking the ‘Editor’s Choice’ building wasn’t easy as there were so many stunning projects. But Reiach and Hall’s Nucleus, the Nuclear and Caithness Archives, was just exceptional materially, aesthetically and functionally. The celebratory gala event at the Grosvenor on 7 December fizzed as much as the champagne. Dara Ó Briain’s sketch – ‘There’s no such thing as snagging, it’s just something builders tell you so that you don’t miss them’ – will always make me smile. We can’t wait to do it all again in 2018!

Emily Booth, editor (maternity cover)

Holocaust Memorial contest: What the jury heard

Adjaye associates 2

Adjaye associates 2

London was given a rare opportunity earlier this year to witness some of world’s greatest architects, artists and designers – Norman Foster, Daniel Libeskind, David Adjaye, Ron Arad, Róisín Heneghan, Peter St John, Rachel Whiteread and Anish Kapoor – all pitch their rival ideas for the UK Holocaust Memorial next to Parliament. It’s not every day the public is invited to witness any judging process so up-close-and-personal, not least for a project of such immense international, national and local significance. For this reason – along with the profound gravity of the commission and its importance in our current age – it was for me the most inspiring and memorable article of the year.

Merlin Fulcher, competitions editor

Neave Brown wins RIBA Royal Gold Medal

Neave brown royal gold medal by morley von sternberg crop

Neave brown royal gold medal by morley von sternberg crop

Amid the tragic events of the year, Neave Brown’s winning the Gold Medal in October was truly heartening, and the series of interviews and lectures that followed were inspirational, albeit tinged with seeing the sort of architecture and architects we lost along with the golden age of council housing.

At the smaller-scale end of things, amid the usual churn of pavilions over the summer, it was PUP’s Antepavilion in August that came as a breath of fresh air – a new, hopeful and uncynical programme that has just announced its second instalment and a new practice that is definitely one to watch. 

Jon Astbury, assistant architecture editor 

Exclusive: Rogers and Koolhaas warn AA cost-cutting could prove fatal

1289176 aabedfordsq2 jeremysm

1289176 aabedfordsq2 jeremysm

The story we broke in mid-November about planned redundancies at the Architectural Association revealed a furious row that is sure to continue in 2018.

The AA is primarily known as an architecture school but uniquely, it also boasts an academic and cultural mission, something that was embedded in its founding charter in 1847. Observers including Joseph Rykwert and director of the Architecture Foundation Ellis Woodman claimed that these two aspects were under threat when, in the midst of escalating financial pressures, the AA Council and interim director Samantha Hardingham placed 16 staff on notice of redundancy.

Those affected included the entire exhibitions and publications departments with the latter responsible for the AA’s much-lauded journal for members, AA Files. While the row has since escalated following complaints to the school from figures including Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rogers, Phyllis Lambert and Kengo Kuma, the school shows little sign of changing course.

Will Hurst, managing editor

Building study: Haworth Tompkins remakes the street at Silchester Estate

12 silchester  haworth tompkins philipvile

12 silchester haworth tompkins philipvile

Source: Philip Vile

While there will never be a eureka moment for the ‘problem’ of housing, this year has seen the green shoots of revival in council-led housing, and the completion of several fine schemes that form thoughtful, considered bits of city – like Silchester, by Haworth Tompkins. And with masterplans like the North-West Cambridge development, winner in the Masterplan category of this month’s inaugural AJ Architecture Awards, indications are good that new exemplar models of sustainable neighbourhood-led city-making are in the pipeline. It has also been good to see so many great one-off house projects balancing considered design with delight – from bucolic new builds like the the Houseboat by Mole Architects, to the inspired urban reinvention of Checa Romero’s 1980s terrace house and reinterpretation of 31/44’s Red House.

At the other end of the scale, while the smoke and mirrors of big press reveals can sometimes obscure unremarkable buildings, in autumn two new big beast building openings proved that experimentation and surprise can still occur almost in spite of the hype. AHMM’s high-spec ‘naked’ White Collar Factory and the almost baroque forms of Foster + Partners’ Bloomberg European HQ, provide models for innovation in the workplace in form, material and sustainability: buildings as well-funded research vehicles.

Rob Wilson, architecture editor

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