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Awards for the 21st century

Jane Duncan

How are awards won? It’s time to rethink the criteria

‘There is a danger when every building has to look spectacular, to look like it is changing the world. I don’t care how a building looks if it means something: not to architects, but to the people who use it’ – David Chipperfield

Vitruvius named three primary criteria of good architecture: firmitas, utilitas and venustas – (durability, convenience and beauty). He gave equal weight to all three criteria, and I am pretty sure that many architects today would agree with him.

I’ve been reflecting on this as I recover from the wonderful celebrations for the RIBA Stirling prize a few weeks ago and get ready to settle down and watch the Grand Designs/RIBA House of the Year on Channel 4. 

RIBA awards are judged against a range of criteria including design vision; innovation and originality; capacity to stimulate, engage and delight occupants and visitors; accessibility and sustainability; how fit the building is for its purpose; and the level of client satisfaction. 

Every year they court controversy and this shows that they matter. But we should consider whether our awards criteria reflect the current demands of society, and consider the future.  

Should the primary purpose of our awards be to educate the public about what we architects admire in any one year, encourage innovation, and grasp at a more exciting, technology-based or smarter future?

Who should architecture benefit, and can we measure it?

Should we consider rewarding socially responsible buildings, or those with proven long term and diverse benefits to a client/community/country – which implies reviewing them some years after they have been built? Even perhaps a successful architectural outcome with little or no actual building involved, which rewards a successful collaborative process? 

Should we be more inclusive, and award popular or traditional architecture if it is an exemplar? To what extent does great architecture affect the quality of ordinary lives in supposedly ordinary places; who should architecture benefit, and can we measure it? I think the criteria for judging need to be updated, and we should definitely seek more diverse panels.

What is your opinion? I’d love to hear your views.

Good buildings depend on individual perspectives – but also on a knowledge and understanding of how people interact with them. ‘We shape our buildings; there­after they shape us,’ as Winston Churchill said. 

Sadly some architects are still suspicious (or perhaps nervous) of evidence based research or rigorous review and post occupancy evaluation. But we desperately need an honest assessment of which design strategies worked as predicted. Although it is a challenge, we need to know whether the building we designed did what it said on the tin. Otherwise we risk awarding beautiful long term errors.

I am pleased that our inaugural International Prize, which will be formally announced later this month, has a strong emphasis on the value of architecture to communities worldwide. It will be awarded to the most significant and inspirational civil building globally, demonstrating visionary, innovative thinking and excellence of execution, while making a distinct contribution to its users and to its physical context.

 Great architecture should not just be unusually good or even unexpected – it also needs to remain unusually good. 

‘I see my buildings as pieces of cities, and in my designs I try to make them into responsible and contributing citizens’ – Cesar Pelli


Disciplinary Suspension

On 10 May 2016 the RIBA Hearings Panel found that Mr J R Weighton of Stamford, Lincolnshire, was guilty of breaching Principles 1, 2 and 3 of the RIBA Code of Conduct regarding honesty and integrity, competence and relationships, in that he failed to act with truthfulness at all times in his professional activities, failed to keep his client informed of the progress of the project, and did not have in place effective procedures for dealing promptly and appropriately with disputes or complaints.

The panel decided to impose a sanction of suspension from RIBA membership for a period of two years, to run concurrently with that previously imposed by ARB.

Disciplinary Reprimand

On 29 June 2016 the RIBA Hearings Panel found that Mr D A Jones of Carmarthen, Dyfed, was in breach of Principles 1 and 2 of the RIBA Code of Conduct in that he failed to have in place adequate conditions of engagement, did not perform his work with due skill and care, failed to declare a conflict of interest when accepting an appointment, and made a misleading statement.

The panel gave due consideration to the mitigating factors and decided to issue a public reprimand.