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The stories that shook your world in 2016

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From Brexit bewilderment to the shock of Schumacher, the AJ’s readers pick the stories which had the biggest impact on them in 2016 

Hazel Rounding, director of shedkm

Hazel rounding crop

Rather than a story as such, it would be hard not to say the collection of articles related to Brexit. During the professional limbo that has ensued since the referendum, tracking the ‘mood’ has a been of interest to the whole profession and Martyn Evans’ Architects can be britain’s greatest ambassadors following Brexit (AJ 01.11.16) was a welcome balance to the gloom of stories relaying the reality of major firms laying off staff. The September story Statistics paint conflicting picture of post-EU Referendum reality (AJ 22.09.16) is perhaps still the case, but at least we’ve enjoyed a few positive and negative headlines along the way…

Peter Murray, chairman of New London Architecture

Peter Murray

The story of the year for me was Patrik Schumacher on social housing (London Mayor blasts Schumacher over social housing speech AJ 28.11.16). I had heard him make similar comments at the Venice Biennale and London Real Estate Forum, and although they created a bit of a stir in the room they were never reported in the same way as the World Architecture Festival presentation. I disagree wholeheartedly with Patrik’s position, but in the private debates he injected a new questioning of established positions that I found very refreshing. The knee-jerk reactions and trolling once the story went viral were really depressing.

Rab Bennetts, co-founder Bennetts Associates

Rab Bennetts square

The story of the year was undoubtedly Will Hurst’s coverage of the Garden Bridge. Playing fast and loose with public procurement isn’t right and it has turned out to be the controversial bridge’s Achilles heel, thank goodness (Is the Garden Bridge dead in the water? AJ 26.10.16). On a personal level Bennetts Associates’ big story was converting the company to 100 per cent employee-owned (not to mention an award or two…)

John McRae, director of Orms

The biggest story has to be Brexit. Never in my lifetime has there been such a momentous and seismic shift in our political and socio-economic systems. It was fascinating to trade thoughts via Twitter as the outcome evolved in the wee hours of 24 June (Profession in shock as UK votes for EU AJ 24.06.16). And while we are yet to fully understand the full impact (positive or negative) of the decision, it will be one of those ‘where were you on 24 June?’ talking points in years to come.

Jane Duncan, RIBA president

Jane Duncan

The biggest story of the year for me was also one of the saddest – the news of Zaha Hadid’s death in March (Tributes flood in for Zaha Hadid AJ 31.03.16). After meeting her only a few months previously to present her with the 2016 Royal Gold Medal, her passing away came as a huge shock to us. Zaha touched the lives of so many, both inside and outside the profession. Her brilliantly imaginative designs, her unwillingness to settle for less, and her wit, charm and generosity all contribute to her incredible legacy.

Chris Harding, chairman of BDP

The standout moment for me was Michael Gove’s apology for stopping the Building Schools for the Future Programme (Gove: I regret scrapping Building Schools for the Future AJ 28.11.15). I hope he doesn’t have to apologise for Brexit too! And BDP’s exciting new partnership with Nippon Koei which uniquely places us to rise to the design challenges of urbanisation and a finite planet.

David Birkbeck, chief executive of Design for Homes

David Brikbeck Design for homes

My favourite story is the Switch House row: no one in my rustic local talks about Stirling Prize candidates, but they all did once Nicholas Serota taunted residents of Neo Bankside to put up net curtains (Neo Bankside residents instruct lawyers over Tate viewing gallery AJ 05.09.16). Those photos showing cardboard cut-outs in their undies waving back gave the residents a human face, but also highlighted how two of the five flats above and below have been left empty by the ‘safe-deposit box investors’ they were designed for. A rare chance for Generation Rent to enjoy a laugh at London’s new-builds.

Clare Murray, head of sustainability at Levitt Bernstein

This year the story that caught my eye was Post-occupancy evaluation of five schools by Architype (AJ 07.04.16). Post-occupancy evaluations have always fascinated and made sense to me. Why would architects continue to build buildings without understanding how they perform or whether occupants enjoy using them? We find it a really rewarding and influential process to carry out at least one every year as part of our research programme. But across the industry post-occupancy evaluations are not yet mainstream, often due to a lack of in-house skills or funding, but also due to perceived barriers, such as exposure of mistakes that might have been made. This is why it is so impressive that Architype has monitored and published the results of five schools in a row – all used to feed back and improve one after another. Other practices should take note – the bar has been set for building performance monitoring and improvement.

Hari Phillips, co-founder of Bell Phillips 

Hari phillips

The ongoing story of the year was the trend for middle-aged men to spout fever-pitch, half-baked and ill-informed views. The sort of views that under normal circumstances would be dismissed as late-night drunken ramblings from the back of a night bus, but which have instead become the staple of mainstream politics. The contagion spread from the political sphere to the world of architecture with Patrik Schumacher’s ludicrous pantomime villain speech at the World Architecture Festival. His views helped to shine a spotlight on the architectural profession, but not in a good way (Architecture needs a spokesperson; don’t let it be Patrik Schumacher AJ 29.11.16).

Chris Williamson, co-founder of Weston Williamson + Partners

The Garden Bridge Procurement is my story of the year. Will Hurst has done a fantastic job of researching and keeping this story going (Exclusive: TFL told of Boris preference for Heatherwick before Garden Bridge contestAJ 21.04.16). He rightly has won many awards for great writing and tenacity. Jane Duncan and others have taken it up. It does however raise many questions of how, if designers can dream up fantastic ideas, they can be realised if public contributions are necessary. If all the private donations were sufficient there wouldn’t be a problem. But with some public money we have to go out to tender for someone to detail an already accepted design?

Luke Tozer, co-founder of Pitman Tozer Architects

Luke tozer

In a year of dramatic headlines, with Brexit and Trump, it is still hard to get beyond the sad and unexpected passing of Zaha Hadid. I admired her verve, spirit and robust refusal to do things the ’normal’ way (Zaha Hadid 1950 - 2016 AJ 31.03.16).


Sally Lewis, founder of Stitch

Patrik Schumaker’s views on affordable housing (Schumacher’s vision is one in which the rich use the rest of the world as their playground AJ 30.11.16) That Trumped Brexit.

Lee Marsden of Coffey Architects

Lee marsden of coffey architects

The news that the planned resuscitation of Gillespie Kidd and Coia’s St Peter’s Seminary at Cardross finally had a planned reopening date was good news for the start of 2016. After so many failed attempts to halt the creeping decay of the building, it was incredibly exciting to hear news that Hinterland, the official launch of Scotland’s 2016 Festival of Architecture was being held at St Peter’s (Scottish architecture festival opens with St Peter’s Seminary lightshow AJ 21.03.16).

Anyone who has seen images of the completed building and then made the journey to visit the building in its semi-ruined state, as I did several times while studying in Glasgow, could not avoid being simultaneously shocked by its decline yet overwhelmed by the sheer scale of buildings and spaces, and the composition within the landscape. I am keenly looking forward to revisiting in 2018 which will be exactly 50 years after its original completion.

Robert Evans, co-founder of Evans Vettori

The furore unleashed by Patrik Schumacher’s provocative Berlin speech was highly newsworthy for challenging the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. Having introduced him at an RIBA conference a few weeks earlier, I found him to be earnest and well-meaning. While I disagree with his proposals, he has sparked debate about the serious housing problems we face (Patrik Schumacher has provided a necessary challenge to housing AJ 22.11.16).

Ben Derbyshire, RIBA president elect

Ben Derbyshire

Brexit is of course the big story of the year, but in housing I’m encouraged that the government is now broadening its focus from home-owning to a cross-sectoral approach, which recognises that investing in housing as economic infrastructure will ease the crisis of affordability and revitalise the construction industry (What does Brexit mean for housebuilding? AJ 13.07.16).

 AJ subscribers’ most-read stories of 2016

1 Zaha Hadid dies suddenly (31.03.16)
2 Peter Cook launches attack on ’biscuit boys’ of British architecture (10.06.16)
3 Stars reveal rival visions for 100m LSE job (01.03.16)
4 The AJ on Brexit: 10 predictions (24.06.16)
5 Shortlist for AJ Small Projects Awards: Part 1 (01.02.16)
6 RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist revealed (14.07.16)
7 Obituary: Gareth Hoskins (1967-2016) (11.01.16)
8 Neo Bankside residents instruct lawyers over Tate viewing gallery (05.09.16)
9 MIPIM 2016: As it happens by the AJ bloggers in Cannes (11.03.16)
10 AJ100 Awards: Building of the Year shortlist announced (20.04.16)
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