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Top 5 Culture stories 2023

Chris Foges

Royal Gold Medallist Yasmeen Lari, the life of Michael Hopkins and Park Hill on stage all caught readers' attention this year – along with a ghost from Christmas past

Yasmeen Lari at the Zero Carbon Women Centre in Sindh.
Yasmeen Lari at the Zero Carbon Women Centre in Sindh. Credit: Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

#1: RIBA Royal Gold Medallist 2023: Yasmeen Lari
Published: 26 April 2023

Top spot on this year’s list of best-read Culture stories goes to our interview with Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari. Why might that be? Partly, of course, it’s that she was awarded the Royal Gold Medal in April, and coverage of all recent Medallists in RIBAJ – Balkrishna Doshi in 2022, David Adjaye in 2021, Grafton Architects in 2020 and Nicholas Grimshaw in 2019 – has attracted healthy interest among readers. But the nature of Lari’s work will have given the piece an added boost. She’s on a humanitarian mission serving marginalised people, in a region stricken by the effects of climate change, and is applying her skills to creation of social as well as physical structures – all things in which we’ve seen strong and growing interest among readers in recent years.

Read more about Yasmeen Lari’s journey from corporate architecture to coalface activism


Jonathan Smales, founder of Human Nature.
Jonathan Smales, founder of Human Nature. Credit: Ivan Jones

#2: Profile: Jonathan Smales, Greenpeace director turned sustainable developer
Published: 24 January 2023

Jonathan Smales is the driving force behind the Phoenix Project, a 700-home brownfield extension to Lewes in East Sussex. The former boss of Greenpeace has an unusual CV for a developer, but has strong credentials in sustainability which is a central concern of this project. Added to this is an emphasis on architectural quality that offers the promise of an exemplary new place. But to pull it off, Smales faces significant obstacles, wrote Eleanor Young: ‘The list of things he is trying to change – from planning to using hemp in timber cassettes, ways of working with a whole band of architectural practices… [and] a “raw” housing offer where residents just buy a shell – seems a little overwhelming’. Judging by the response to the article many architects are invested in the outcome, and we will be returning to the Phoenix as it rises.  

Will the Phoenix Project revolutionise small town regeneration? Discover more about Smales’ ambitions


Thomas Heatherwick holds up a spread from Humanise - an antidote to the ‘blandemic’ of boring architecture.
Thomas Heatherwick holds up a spread from Humanise - an antidote to the ‘blandemic’ of boring architecture. Credit: Heatherwick Studio

#3: High contrast: books from John Tuomey and Thomas Heatherwick
Published: 21 November 2023

Thomas Heatherwick’s impassioned polemic against boring buildings – ‘Humanise’ - was published in a storm of publicity: broadsheet interviews, a grand launch at the Southbank Centre, even a Radio 4 documentary series. In that sense, at least, it was the architectural publishing event of the year. At the same time Royal Gold Medallist John Tuomey published ‘First Quarter’, a slim personal memoir reflecting on the life that led him into architecture. No doubt the noise around Heatherwick’s doorstop tome helped to drive readers to Hugh Pearman’s review, which put the two books head to head, but they left with a warm recommendation for the quieter, more ‘human’ offering. And perhaps some appreciation for a publishing culture that has room for both.

Which to pick from opposing poles of architectural publishing? Find out here


Michael Hopkins’ Schlumberger Research Centre.
Michael Hopkins’ Schlumberger Research Centre. Credit: Dennis Gilbert

#4: Obituary: Michael Hopkins (1935-2023)
Published: 19 June 2023

With the death of Michael Hopkins in June, the profession lost one of its most inventive, acclaimed and influential members. As Colin Davies’ obituary observed, Hopkins was a practical man whose deep interest in construction produced architecture of great elegance and atmospheric power, first as a pioneer of what became known as high Tech, and later in weightier buildings that found a new reconciliation between modernity and tradition. The breadth of the work is evident in Davies’ additional selection of ten key buildings by Hopkins Architects – including the Schlumberger Research Centre, Portcullis House and Glyndebourne opera house – which also found a large readership.

Remembering Michael Hopkins – a pragmatic, poetic pioneer


The Company of Standing at the Sky’s Edge.
The Company of Standing at the Sky’s Edge. Credit: Johan Persson

#5: Park Hill’s musical generation game
Published: 8 February 2023

What a turnaround for Park Hill. After years of neglect and decline, the totemic Sheffield estate is now most of the way through a comprehensive transformation. Its maligned ‘streets in the sky’ now decorate brutalist-chic cushions and coasters and, in 2023, got a starring role on the West End stage. The musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which transferred from Sheffield’s Crucible, is a ‘love song for the city’ as our reviewer Laura Mark put it, but probes themes that have much wider relevance – from isolation to gentrification – in the interleaved stories of three generations of residents. All set to a score by the extraordinary singer-songwriter Richard Hawley, and with set design that made imaginative use of Park Hill’s monumental access decks and famed graffiti. Little surprise then, that the glowing review piqued readers’ curiosity - or that the Olivier Award-winning show will return to the London stage at the Gillian Lynne Theatre on Drury Lane from February to August next year.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge returns to the stage in 2024. Revisit our review here


Evergreen Culture story – the most popular article from our archive that kept readers coming back in 2023


Professor Carlos Moreno in front the Academie Francaise near his Paris home.
Professor Carlos Moreno in front the Academie Francaise near his Paris home. Credit: Julie Ansiau

Carlos Moreno profile: 15 minutes to save the world
Published: 16 December 2021

This was the year that ‘15-minute cities’ exploded into the public consciousness, in the strangest way. All manner of conspiracy theories were hatched in the weirder corners of the Internet, reading sinister New World Order machinations into relatively benign principles of urban planning. In February that prompted thousands of demonstrators to gather in Oxford to protest phantasmic ‘climate lockdowns’. Respectable newspapers warned of a ‘return to the dungeons of state control’. More sober-minded readers found their way to back our 2021 interview with Carlos Moreno, the author of the concept, to hear from the source about the neighbourhood improvement measures that launched a hundred hysterical headlines.

See for yourself - are 15-minute cities a genuine threat to free-born peoples?