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What unites this year’s Stirling shortlist? Enlightened clients

Emily Booth
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Clients prepared to invest in considered design are fundamental to creating the best architecture, writes Emily Booth

Let’s hear it for the RIBA Stirling Prize, for which the AJ is proud to be the professional media partner. It is a moment when the industry gets to take a breath and celebrate stand-out architecture and architects.

Of course there’s always debate about whether the final six projects are the correct ones to be shortlisted – but that is the way of awards. What unites this year’s six schemes is a holistic design approach from creative practitioners supported by enlightened clients. Clients who are prepared to debate, explore and invest in considered design. Clients who take risks.

The relationship between architect and client is a special one. When it works well – and is nurtured with care, respect and honest discussion – beautiful buildings can result. It is rare for a successful building to emerge when that relationship breaks down or is shaky to begin with.

It is rare for a successful building to emerge when the architect/client relationship breaks down or is shaky to begin with

For practices to grow and the architecture profession to thrive, such relationships are crucial. As is an entrepreneurial approach. As is an ability to see the bigger picture – to engage with wider stakeholders, such as the public and government.

David Marks, who so sadly passed away earlier this month, was talented in all three of these areas. Working on place-changing projects – most notably the London Eye and the BA i360 – with his wife and business partner Julia Barfield, he encapsulated the positive, future-looking verve of the best entrepreneurial architects. 

Their practice, Marks Barfield, takes responsibility for driving forward many of its high-profile schemes – and has shared their projects’ financial risk in many instances. When there has been no client to speak of, Marks Barfield’s vision, commitment and belief in finding a way has pushed projects on.

Many readers have spoken to us of Marks’ ability to connect with the public, from concept to delivery. Not just to win over communities, but to listen and adapt. He had a social concern and awareness that is evident throughout the schemes he was involved in – from the Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens to the University of Cambridge Primary School.

The industry can learn from Marks. He played an important role in a creative, dynamic environment and helped change our built world for the better. Let’s hear it for him.

This article first appeared in the RIBA Stirling Prize 2017 issue – click here to buy a copy

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