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Writing Prize introduction

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Emily Booth introduces the winners of the third AJ Writing Prize

Now in its third year, The AJ Writing Prize, in association with Berman Guedes Stretton, celebrates and rewards new architectural criticism. This year writers were given a free rein with the brief - resulting in some creative approaches.

We had an impressive 135 entries in response to the call to write a 1,000-word essay ‘on any topic relevant to architecture’ about an historical or contemporary subject. ‘The piece may look at an individual building or buildings,’ we said, ‘or a subject pertinent to the practice, theory or business of architecture.’ For the first time there was no age limit for entrants.

Entries revealed a wide choice of subject-matter, ranging from the importance of ornament to the nature of light, and from a guest-house in Malaysia’s Ipoh district to a castle in the Rhine valley.

In the end our top-flight jury - including RIBA Gold Medal winner Joseph Rykwert, The Financial Times architecture and design critic Edwin Heathcote, Berman Guedes Stretton’s Alan Berman and AJ editor Christine Murray - picked an outstanding winner who coupled a clear argument with a fine-art perspective.

As Berman explains: ‘Many an architect’s office is silent with people locked into their CAD comas. The Writing Prize is intended to encourage observation and examination of what’s beneath the super-real imagery so easily conjured on screen - to prompt enquiry about ideas and values. The best reviews use a work to do this.

‘Of the large number of submissions, those that did this formed an easy shortlist, with one or two asking searing questions. From this list we selected those that were well written and which, after the first few lines, made us want to read on. The winner exhibited these qualities more than any other submission.’

In the following pages we present the essays that most impressed the judges. All have that certain ‘something’ that kept their attention to the end: an argument, an original voice, an approach that gripped the reader. Congratulations to our winner Eliot Foy, and to our commended and shortlisted writers.

We hope you enjoy reading their pieces.


Edwin Heathcote, architecture and design critic of The Financial Times

Joseph Rykwert, architecture critic and RIBA Gold Medal winner

Alan Berman, consultant, Berman Guedes Stretton

Christine Murray, editor, The Architects’ Journa

The winner: Eliot Foy

‘A well-written piece, with a good turn of phrase. It demonstrated an interesting use of art to illuminate an issue of today’ Alan Berman

‘Short on cliché, a clear argument’ Joseph Rykwert

‘The use of fine art and the historical perspective gave it a real interest. Comparing Rogers to Warhol is interesting - I hadn’t seen that done before’ Edwin Heathcote

‘Surprising and elegantly argued’ Christine Murray

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