Royal Gold Medal crit

A crit is a nerve-wracking experience at any time, writes Eleanor Young.

But imagine the rush of adrenaline when you are confronted with a panel headed by Royal Gold Medallist Joseph Rykwert and a room full of some of the best studio heads and teachers in the country. Jeremy Till of Central Saint Martins, Matt Gaskin of Oxford Brookes, Dr Andrew Crompton of the University of Liverpool and architect and Bartlett tutor Niall McLaughlin were among the audience and interlocutors.

The three RIBA President’s Medal winning students, all coincidently from the Bartlett, presented eloquently. Their projects, based in northern Europe engaged deeply with the existing conditions.

Part 1 graduate and Bronze Medallist Ness Lafoy faced the toughest questions, having presented the most detailed buildings to create a social centre for islanders in the Helsinki Archipelago. The fundamental and incisive question, from Rykwert, was why some of the buildings were design to tilt then sit upright in the water. ‘The tilting seems expensive for the gain,’ he said. ‘What is the gain?’

As always with a crit it can be hard to draw a distinction between a real building and a theoretical project that sets out to explore a series of ideas.

Silver Gold Medallist Ben Hayes’ proposal to draw together the many collapsing Orthodox churches in northern Russia on a restoration island has already lead to a project documenting them in an attempt to draw attention to their plight. Rywert wanted to grasp whether these moves might bring back and sustain a local population in any long term way. Others questioned whether they could survive as an archive or only if used as a political tool; perhaps a lesson in nation building?

While Hayes had deliberately steered away from such proposals Dissertation Medallist Tamsin Hanke had found that weighing up a utopian project of the Soviet 60s had opened her eyes to the way one political brief, with architecture as is social tool, can easily be supplanted. ‘If a building is so instilled with politics how does it move?’ she asked. It is a question of grand historical perspective that could easily come from Rykwert himself.