In praise of quiet winners
I am delighted to have been asked to judge the Wood Awards this year, and spent much of the weekend going through the late entries which, in time-honoured tradition, almost equalled those that were received on time. There is some wonderful work, ranging from tiny follies, artworks and extra rooms up to substantial schools, healthcare and cultural buildings.
But it is no criticism to say that there are no blockbusters this year, nothing to compare to the Velodrome, a building which has already achieved high visibility and will have far more over the summer. We just aren’t building on that scale now, and even the largest buildings submitted don’t play that part of ‘objects in the landscape’ perfected by the Velodrome and also by one of last year’s winners, Brockholes.
The recently announced RIBA awards showed a similar trend away from scene stealers. The Olympics represent the last hurrah for ‘big architecture’ for some time to come, and the few schools that are feeding through represent the end of the pipeline for Building Schools for the Future, before the cost-cutting future in which government representatives have stated firmly that the new commissions will not win architecture prizes.
Architecture is in a state of flux, but the news is not all bad. New practices are forming and, surprisingly, making a living as well. And whereas the very special surroundings of the Velodrome and Brockholes make it right that they should stand out, buildings that relate to their neighbours are what we all need more of, even if they are not so photogenic.
We can be quietly confident of seeing some great, quiet buildings rewarded in the years to come.