The hiatus of the pandemic has allowed a reset in entry criteria: projects submitted for the 2022 awards will need to have been occupied for one year
A year can make such a difference. By March it is expected the new vaccines will have helped return our worlds closer to how we remember them, and the past year of lockdowns and temporary closures will be consigned to memory, rather than our lived reality. But life and business will be different.
One unexpected outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic is the chance to gain a year on the RIBA Awards timeline. Projects already submitted and shortlisted for 2020 have been taken forward into 2021, which creates the opportunity to require that submissions in 2022 must be for projects that have been occupied for a year. I’m pleased this opportunity is being taken, for so many reasons.
Sometimes when visiting buildings as part of the awards judging process there is the smell of freshly applied paint, the grass grinning through soil, and clients evidently still increasing their knowledge and experience of, and love for, their new project. Designed and constructed specific to client, context and climate, it takes time to fully appreciate how it truly fits one’s needs, the different ways it can be used, the way it performs and how to enjoy it – both in the expected ways and sometimes unexpected ones too.
With one year of occupancy as a prerequisite for future submissions to the RIBA Awards, the defects period will be over and the environmental performance monitored, adjusted and confirmed. Squeaks can be resolved and tweaks made, to realise optimum performance and user satisfaction. Instruction manuals will have been consulted and clarifications given. The reflections of clients and users familiar with the project, after experiencing a full year of it, plus post-occupancy evaluation, will inform the project team and the judging process. In the same way that creating architecture takes time, fully using and coming to appreciate a project also takes time.
Over a calendar year, of summer and winter, sun and rain, breeze and gale, an understanding of how best to use a project will develop, of when and how to open up – and batten down. It will be a year of acquiring experience of how to run it effectively and efficiently, keeping energy consumption and bills low, and a year of increasing delight and appreciation of what has been delivered, by a team of many, for them.
My experience is that satisfied and pleased users become evangelists for carefully considered and well delivered projects. In Defining Contemporary Professionalism, Pierre Wassenaar and Fionn Stevenson, along with many others, make a strong case for the strategic thinking and fine detail delivery skills of architects to be applied from inception to occupation – from Stage 0 to Stage 7. The challenge for architects, supported by RIBA, is for their appointments to reflect this whole spectrum value.
The physical visiting of each project already puts the RIBA Awards above those judged purely on image, text and drawing. Adding a year of occupation to the criteria further aligns the awards with architects’ good practice and even more so with client, user and performance value. When a project receives an RIBA Award people will know it has been tried and tested. What a difference a year makes.