Q&A: Tony Chapman

As Tony Chapman nears retirement after nearly 20 years of running awards for the RIBA we ask him about the why prizes matter and the RIBA’s new International Award

Why do awards matter?

They reward those who put in blood sweat and tears with the recognition of their peers. And they help the public understand why good buildings are important.

Surely there are too many?

There are too many bad awards. An award isn’t worth winning if it has not been seen before being judged. That is where all the money goes on the RIBA Awards.

After the televised RIBA House of the Year, could other awards be more engaged?

That appearance on Grand Designs was good. I would love more TV coverage of the Stirling Prize. Back in 2000 it was hard to persuade the right broadcaster to do it. Architecture suffered from low esteem then – Stirling became part of the solution and the de facto architecture prize.

Is debate as important as celebration?

Yes. Debate – such as over the Rothschild Flint House winning House of the Year – is the public engagement we want. Judges have a duty to say why something won.

An international award has been difficult to crack. Why?

It is hugely demanding to get entries in from across the world and ensure fair judging. It needs to be run by a reputable institution and the mechanics must be right.

What is different about the new RIBA International Prize?

After three years’ development we’re working on promoting and possibly judging it with 80 international bodies. An awards group will sift, then a member will visit it, with a representative from that region.

Why has the Lubetkin name gone?

It’s changed so fundamentally it needed a completely new title, though it might have a sponsor’s name later.

Will your jury include non-architects?

Richard Rogers is chair of the grand jury with Kunlé Adeyemi and Philip Gumuchdjian – all architects. There are two more judges to be announced, a lay judge, and one appointed by our partner the UIA.

Will it outshine the Stirling Prize?

It could. But that is not the avowed aim. It has a wider catchment and the Stirling Prize winner will be on the longlist alongside 20 international RIBA Awards for Excellence. We’ll have to see if it makes the final six.

So the only UK building to be eligible for the International Prize will be the Stirling winner?

It would be unhumble to put more than one UK building on the list and silly for it not to be Stirling. It would also be mad and unfair to architects to make them submit specially.

You are about to interview Zaha Hadid for the Royal Gold Medal and you are building a week of events around that in February. Tell us about it.

We are involving students through the Royal Gold Medal Crit, we have the RGM lecture and dinner and a series of masterclasses that make more of the honorary fellows like Jonathan Meades and Peter Stutchbury. I think people will want to hear from them.

What next for you?

I’m leaving the RIBA but not architecture, and I will continue to be involved as part of the RIBA awards group. I also have a model book for children, a conversation about presence with Peter Zumthor and an architectural thriller in the pipeline.