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Everyone’s a winner

April 2018 Issue

It’s been barely a month since Gary Oldman picked up the prize for best actor at the Academy Awards in LA and during his acceptance speech called out to his mum to ‘put the kettle on, I’m bringing Oscar home’.

And it’s been barely six months since our own industry’s Oscars in London, the ‘What House’ awards last November.

But as one of the judges for these awards my mind is already turning to 2018’s celebration of the best our industry has to offer with the opening of nominations in the coming weeks.


It’s easy to become cynical about awards. They have become such an industry within themselves that I recently wondered with my colleagues (after a particularly gelatinous and cold starter, unamusing speaker, and out-of-the-way venue) whether we should set up an ‘awards event’ ourselves? …for the promoters of ‘awards events’. It would help potential attendees to determine whether there really was any value in the price of the ticket!


I’m not just talking about the food and entertainment – in a world in which you’ll struggle to find a company that doesn’t promote itself as ‘award-winning’ it can be difficult to see where the value of an accolade lies. Except of course it’s not – the value of any accolade is the value that other’s give it, not the value it asserts for itself.


Which is why we’ve all heard of the Oscars. And it’s also why we’ve all heard of the What House awards – so valued by our industry that in that ‘awards venue of awards venues’, The Grosvenor House Hotel, the What House awards are its largest single annual event.


Looking ahead to this year’s event provides a particulary good opportunity for you not just to win the respect of your immediate peers but also the respect of the wider community. The wonderful inhabitants of our glorious sceptred isle.


We remain in a febrile climate of polarised identity politics where only this month, while launching the latest draft NPPF, Theresa May spoke of 'row after row of identikit boxes that could be anywhere in the country.' This is an observation that goes way beyond my usual architectural whinge about some of the crummy housing that our industry churns out. It is an observation that recognises the central relationship between who we are, and how and where we live. Even Churchill recognised that ‘we shape our buildings – and thereafter our buildings shape us’. Get it wrong and you set-up problems not just for the first inhabitants of a new home, but for generations of inhabitants to come.


So what’s to be done?


In many cases nothing.




By which I mean it’s often the ‘nothing’, the stuff that isn’t building, that is the most important part of any new development. The streets and squares around which communities are built, the pavements, front gardens and porches that delineate the progression from public to private. These are the places that provide space for chance encounters with neighbours, that create security and community by design, not by security camera. It’s one of the delicious ironies of my own profession that it’s the parts of our towns and cities that aren’t ‘there’, that aren’t ‘building’, but the spaces between buildings that far outlast the buildings themselves. In many ways the Georgian Squares and mass produced Victorian Terraces that underpin the stylistic cues of so much of the housing that we build even today were ‘identikit’ themselves – the first of their kind - but just with better spaces between them.


And the boldest examples of these, some of the grander central London terraces and mansion blocks are amongst the highest density housing projects in the country. I’m particularly excited about the current plans for the re-development of Dolphin Square – notice the clue ‘Square’ in its name. It is already, famously, one of London’s highest density housing schemes but the re-development proposal, hilariously, is to make it more dense! Re-jig some of the apartments and add a couple of stories on top. But it’ll be better, it’ll look better, provide better accommodation and be fit for purpose for the next few decades because the basic organisation of the buildings, around a central garden square, works. Beautiful design and architecture – commissioned by one of the most capitalist of capitalist clients – this is design that will make money and last the test of time …a future award winner perhaps?


But I digress a little – how do YOU win a prize?

Well - show us that you actually care about your submission and stay relevant- if you’re entering the best interior design category please don’t just send in your marketing brochure – tell us about the interior design.

And please don’t send in A1 plans photocopied, unscaled, on to an A4 sheet – we really did get sent these one year - so they were missing all of the information we wanted to see – except the title block.

Keep it lean and to the point - your submission is only a strong as your weakest image – so send in fewer, better ones.


Mostly however - just be good.


And of course you have to enter – you’ve got to be in it to win it – and with luck you’ll be asking your mum to put the kettle on too.


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