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The rise in first-time winners at this year’s RIBA Awards is cause to be optimistic

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Paul Monaghan analyses the best architecture produced in the UK over the last year

The RIBA Awards are unashamedly focused on design and they remain the most coveted awards because of the rigour in which the selections are made.

Each building that appears here has been visited twice and will have been the subject of many hours of discussion in the RIBA Region, the local juries and the RIBA Awards Group in London.

Overall, there are 93 awards spread evenly around the country, with Wales producing more winners than ever before.

There are two sectors that dominate the awards this year, individual houses and major arts projects, and they best show the current diversity in British architecture. A remarkable number of major gallery projects feature this year: the Whitechapel Gallery (pictured), Nottingham Contemporary and the Ashmolean among them. All are fine public buildings and most are being produced by architects in their prime. The individual houses include elegant conversions or extensions showing great originality and ingenuity within tight budgets.

At the larger scale, there are some great housing schemes too, but not enough. Sadly, the BSF programme is still not producing award-winning schools and perhaps it is too early for CABE’s Minimum Design Standards to take effect. However, more traditionally procured schools are healthier than ever and show there is still great ambition for this building typology. I think there is a lesson here about how we best procure our schools.

We must scrutinise our procurement processes to ensure they provide the best value and outcomes

Universities continue to produce good buildings where procurement methods often focus on design.

Here, the OJEU process means the main players in this sector are still the large, established firms and it would be great to see other practices get work in this area. Offices are also well presented this year, with sustainability a major feature in many of the winners, showing that more sophisticated developers are embracing low-energy buildings as an essential part of the workplace of the future.

Perhaps the most optimistic signal for younger members of the profession is the large number of first-time award winners. It is encouraging that the recession has not stopped the development of these younger companies and I would even speculate that it has strengthened their resolve.

Common among all the award winners is the presence of a great client or design champion. Creating the environment for good design will become more difficult in the coming year with an inevitable emphasis on cost, so as an industry we must scrutinise our procurement processes to ensure they provide the best value and the best possible outcomes.

For the RIBA Awards Group, our next step is to choose six projects to form the Stirling Prize shortlist - a real challenge with such great work to select from.

  • Paul Monaghan is a co-founder of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
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