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Doing our best

Hugh Pearman

We have a new project: identifying the No 1 award-winning practice in the UK

As you can imagine if you’ve looked at our ‘Besties’ special section on page 71, the matter of awards is much on our minds. This is still a growth industry – yet another ambitious awards scheme including architecture was announced by multi-discipline design media organisation Dezeen as we went to press. 

The fact that firm A wins a lot more awards than firm B and so scores higher in our agglomerated Besties rankings does not, of course, mean that Firm A is necessarily a better architect than Firm B. It might just mean that firm A, this year, had a lot of high-profile completions that did well across the awards board while Firm B, say, had just one awards-worthy building. That building might even win the Stirling Prize but on its own win fewer points overall. So it is in our inaugural Besties: our winner does not have the Stirling Prize in its awards tally (although it has won the Stirling Prize previously and been shortlisted several times). But it does have several excellent multiple award-winning buildings and so picked up the most points on our system – 190 – for the past year. 

In contrast the present Stirling Prize holder has not, this year, collected enough other awards for that and other buildings to come higher up our rankings than its very creditable score of 120. It’s all a bit of fun really but the Besties has an underlying purpose as well: to find out which the consistently good practices are, when judged by the broadest spectrum of people in various different ways. To find that out properly of course, you have to look at more than one year, which is just a snapshot. This is a picture that builds up over time.

The Besties has an underlying purpose: to find out which the consistently good practices are

If we decide to re-run this, we could refine it in various ways. We’d certainly widen the field to include some other more specialist awards. We’ll consider the practicality of introducing a handicap system that adjusts for size of practice. Could we do anything to allow for the fact that traditionalist and conservation architecture often gets overlooked – or just not entered – in conventional awards systems? Are the weightings we give the various awards fair? Just how many sub-categories should we take into account? 

Behind all this is a more persistent question. What’s the point of awards for architects? They’re nice to get, sure, but there was a time, within living memory, when architecture seemed able to flourish perfectly well without such completed-building-and-project gongs. Well, I know that most clients take awards as a mark of quality, helping them to refine their shortlists. I know that many practices are assiduous about entering awards as widely as possible for this reason, regarding the cost and time involved as necessary marketing. And I know, as do clients, that the most valuable awards are those where you are judged by your peers as well as interested clients and outsiders – and are properly visited. So if you enter only one awards programme, make sure it’s the RIBA’s. 

To help us develop the Besties we invite your feedback on this, their first outing. Comments please to