Anybody organising an awards ceremony is stuck with the problem of who they should get to speak. There are plenty of rent-a-celebs but they come with pretty high price tags and often just do their thing which may, or may not, be entertaining. Too often they phone in a performance and, when it comes to handing out the awards, just seemed bored. They make fun of accolades which, to those receiving them, are deadly serious. And they ask too much money.
On Thursday I went to not one but two awards ceremonies. And while a wouldn’t recommend this to anybody (you certainly feel jaded by the end of the day) they were both successful thanks, in part, to the inspired choice of speaker. The Landscape Institute invited Majora Carter, the inspirational urban revivalist from the US who has driven through the landscape-enabled revitalisation of the South Bronx in New York, an area that she describes as the city’s ‘environmental sacrifice’ zone. Clever, admirable and moving (I was not the only one to have tears in my eyes) she gave a presentation that was a love letter to landscape architecture. The LI made the most of her visit by asking her to give a separate talk two days earlier, and then asking her to go to speak to its Scottish branch.
IBP (International Building Press) invited David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation. Less glamorous than Majora Carter (it is hard to think of anybody who is NOT less glamorous than Majora Carter), he was almost equally spellbinding, telling the audience of construction journalists and marketing people why it was so important to simply build more houses – whatever the tenure. The audience was inspired and informed, instead of teased and patronised. Another inspired choice of speaker.
Both provided a fitting framework for the award winners, the people who, in the end, these occasions are all about.