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The standout stories of 2013

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AJ news editor Richard Waite on the headlines that shook British architecture this year

The AJ campaigns for Denise Scott Brown to be acknowledged as joint Pritzker Prize winner

Denise Scott Brown

As part of the AJ Women in Architecture campaign, an exclusive interview with Denise Scott Brown sparked a global protest against a 20-year-old wrong – the decision not to give the 1991 prize jointly to Robert Venturi and his partner, Denise Scott Brown. It ultimately failed, but the Pritzker and the AIA both changed their awards criteria in response. Meanwhile the AJ’s annual Women in Architecture survey revealed that unequal pay was still a problem, with 26 per cent of women directors still earning less than male counterparts. Eighty-nine per cent of women said having children had been detrimental to their careers. Eva Jiřičná won the Jane Drew Prize and Alison Brooks was named AJ Woman Architect of the Year. At the awards, Grafton’s Yvonne Farrell demanded architecture schools teach students about work by female architects.

Viñoly’s Walkie-Talkie accused of melting cars

Viñoly’s Walkie-Talkie

The City of London suspended parking bays after sunlight reflected from Rafael Viñoly’s 20 Fenchurch Street caused chaos, melting car components and scorching doormats. The problem earned the building global media coverage and a new nickname – the Walkie Scorchie. A planning application to add remedial mini-baffles is expected to be submitted before the end of the year.

All that is solid melts into air at Sou Fujimoto’s Serpentine Pavilion 2013

Sou Fujimoto's Serpentine Pavilion

Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto’s temporary pavilion was one of the best received in recent years. The ‘transparent white forest’ was built in London’s Kensington Gardens from 8km of 20mm diameter steel tube cut into 27,000 lengths.

Matheson, McAslan and mayhem – Glasgow’s George Square competition descends into national fiasco

Glasgow City Council's new proposals for George Square

A huge hoo-hah erupted after council leader Gordon Matheson abandoned John McAslan’s competition-winning scheme for Glasgow’s George Square. The RIAS kicked up a fuss but, despite protests to the Standards Commission for Scotland, Matheson was found to have done nothing wrong. A cheaper, unspectacular refurbishment is now complete.

ARB under fire over professional complaints


It was a tricky year for the board. Cases involving George Oldham, Andrew Plumridge and Faheem Aftab came in for heavy criticism and swelled disenchantment with the board’s professional complaints procedures, with many calling for its abolition. There was also widespread condemnation of the board’s £1,000 fine for Adrian Russell’s email criticism of National Park planners. Registrar Alison Carr announced her departure last week.

Chinese investors pump cash into London

Terry Farrell's plans for a low-rise Canary Wharf for London’s Royal Docks

Terry Farrell revealed plans for a low-rise Canary Wharf for London’s Royal Docks, backed by Chinese money. Throughout 2013 both Boris Johnson and David Cameron courted China for investment in the UK. Later in the year the search also began for a big-name architect to rebuild Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace. The international competition was launched by Chinese developer Zhang Rong Group.

Controversy hits FCBS proposals for Southbank Centre

New image of Southbank Centre Festival Wing scheme by FCBS

Feilden Clegg Bradley unveiled its £120 million Festival Wing scheme for the Brutalist landmark. Plans were later amended and resubmitted in November following criticism from CABE among others. The project angered skateboarders too, who wanted to save their 40-year-old undercroft, rather than move to a new skatepark under Hungerford Bridge.

Help to Buy boosts building but housing standards criticised for not going far enough


Although Skanska ducked out of the housing market, others were gearing up for increased delivery, buoyed by Help to Buy. As the year progressed UK house building began to motor and by December year-on-year approvals were up by a third. Meanwhile architects feared the government’s proposed new housing standards – including minimum space standards – would be ‘open to abuse’ if applied voluntarily, rather than in Building Regulations. The debate continues.

Ups and downs for the RIBA and Hodder

Stephen Hodder

New RIBA president Stephen Hodder vowed to combat a dearth of client referrals which had dropped from 4,000 a year to 700, saying he planned to relaunch its RIBA Clients Advisory Service. But the first few months were tough with questions asked about the institute’s executive and an embarrassing foul-up over the RIBA’s own Portland Place contest. RIBA proposals to scrap Parts 1, 2 and 3 and develop a streamlined route to qualification were better received.

AHMM’s amazing year and its on-off-on Google HQ plans

AHMM Google

The seemingly ubiquitous AHMM burst into the top 10 of the AJ100 for the first time, saw its turnover and profits balloon and landed a raft of major commissions, including the Google HQ job. Later in the year the 250-strong practice was asked to rip up its original plans for the £650 million King’s Cross project for something even bigger and more ambitious.

Mather, Golding, McKean, Stansfield Smith and Paoletti die

Rick Mather

US-born, London-based architect Rick Mather died aged 75 after an asbestos-related illness. The architect, whose Ashmolean Museum was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in 2010, was respected for his pragmatism and quiet conviction. Tributes also poured in for Colin Stansfield Smith, the pioneering school designer at Hampshire County Council, who died aged 80, and for admired former secretary of the Royal Fine Art Commission Francis Golding, who lost his life in a cycling collision. We also lost former secretary and treasurer of the RIAS Charles McKean and Roland Paoletti, the ‘irascible but wise’ driving force behind the Jubilee Line Extension stations.

The airport debate – speculative plans pour in to tackle the UK’s airport capacity problems

Foster's proposals for the Isle of Grain Airport

The year began with London mayor Boris Johnson appointing Zaha Hadid, Pascall + Watson and Atkins to draw up proposals for a new airport east of the capital in the Thames estuary – Johnson’s preferred choice for a hub airport. By the beginning of August the independent aviation commission, chaired by Howard Davies, had received 52 proposals for long-term solutions from a range of organisations and architects. Sadly for Johnson, Davies eventually came out in favour of the long-mooted expansion of either Heathrow or Gatwick.

Return of the skyscraper

KPF's proposed HQ for insurer WR Berkley in London's Square Mile

KPF’s 38-storey Scalpel tower, next to Rogers’ Grade I-listed Lloyd’s Building, was the first of a new wave of super-tall buildings to make the headlines in 2013. In the following months, Squire and Partners submitted plans for the UK’s tallest residential tower in London’s Docklands, Glenn Howells and Foster + Partners won the go-ahead for high-rises and Herzog & de Meuron revealed its massive cylindrical skyscraper in Docklands. The long-stalled Pinnacle also looked set to make a comeback with its external Helter Skelter shape retained but altered floorplates.

Design for London’s £1.3 million handout to three practices raises eyebrows

Design for London

Following an AJ exclusive, the Liberal Democrats questioned why, in the six years before it was shut down, 40 per cent of architectural fees paid out by the GLA’s in-house design team went to East, MUF and KCAP.

RMJM, FAT and LDY - struggle, split or close

Jonathan French

Ex-Chipperfield big-hitter Jonathan French arrived at RMJM promising to sort things out and repair reputations. Months later he would be gone, following a bizarre email leak and alleged smear campaign. Following a sell-off, RMJM would go on to shut its Edinburgh offices, ending a 50-year link with the Scottish parliament. Shareholders were left with almost nothing. Elsewhere a large and long-standing’ bad debt sank Llewelyn Davies Yeang and Sidell Gibson sadly followed suit in August. The remnants of both were snapped up by HLM. Meanwhile Make shut its Birmingham office and FAT split after 23 years.

AJ survey shows homophobia is rife in practices and on site

AJ gay survey

Nearly half of lesbian, gay or bisexual architects had experienced discrimination at work and 46 per cent had heard ‘gay’ used as an insult, an AJ survey revealed. A Scottish MP criticised RIAS’s decision not to publicise the survey. The RSUA also refused to circulate it. The AJ was shortlisted for Stonewall’s Publication of the Year award.

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