Friday04 September 2015

Should foreign architects be allowed to enter RIBA Awards?

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Yes, says Marco Goldschmied, to exclude a building for being ‘foreign’ would be a Ukip stance; while Meredith Bowles thinks it will marginalise British architects

Maison L by Christian Pottgiesser

Source: George Dupin

Maison L by Christian Pottgiesser’s Paris-based practice architecturespossibles was awarded the Manser Medal 2012 for the best newly designed private house.


Marco Goldschmied
Former RIBA president

The RIBA’s remit at its foundation in 1834 was “the advance-ment of architecture”. RIBA Awards are integral to that remit. Back then Britannia ruled the waves and no “foreigner” could easily cross our borders or be admitted to the RIBA.

Times have changed. Chairing the Stirling Prize prior to serving as RIBA president in 1999-2000, I felt that, since Jim Stirling’s work was all outside the UK, the minimum geographic area for the Stirling Prize had to be the EU.

The architect must be an RIBA member and these are the permutations:

  • buildings in the UK by UK architects
  • buildings in the UK by EU foreigners
  • buildings in the UK by non-EU foreigners
  • buildings in the EU by UK architects
  • buildings in the EU by EU foreigners
  • buildings in the EU by non-EU foreigners

A surprise addition at Stirling 2012 was the Manser Medal. This curious, now unspon-sored, orphan originally launched by the House-builders Federation to improve UK mass housing, appears to have forgotten its purpose by giving the award to a posh one-off house whose architect joined the RIBA in order to enter. That qualifies it for an RIBA Award. To exclude a building for being “foreign” would be a Ukip stance.

Since encompassing the whole EU our awards have gained a lot more than they have lost. Stirling shortlists and winners have included exceptional projects on “foreign” soil or by “foreign” architects including schools, transport buildings and cultural buildings.
To argue that future awards should be limited to UK buildings by UK architects is about as ludicrous and jingoistic as Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers” or the Times 1924 headline: “Fog in Channel, Continent cut off”.


Meredith Bowles
Director, Mole Architects

It might be seen as sour grapes to argue that we should exclude non-UK architects, as our Dune House lost out on Saturday to the rather lovely and intriguing Maison L. Our position is a little muddy, too, as our co-architect Jarmund Vigsnaes is also not a UK practice. Had the rules been different we wouldn’t have been shortlisted either.

I think the RIBA Awards should essentially promote British architects for two reasons: as an organisation it must represent its members, and restricting its remit will strengthen its image. If it’s going to be global it’s no good being local with a few others thrown in.

There are awards for just about everything, so many that the good awards are devalued because one ceases to consider the winners of some awards schemes as necessarily exceptional. The RIBA Awards remain a gold standard as the architecture is judged by our peers and the buildings are visited.

The RIBA is promoting good architecture; unlike other schemes, this is the RIBA’s brand.

Should the RIBA aim to be a global brand?

Yes, of course. The RIBA should be promoting UK architects abroad. It’s already an important source of work and will remain so. I’m just not sure that opening the awards to allcomers is the right way to achieve the aim. Allowing non-UK architects, building in other countries, to enter the RIBA Awards is not a good way to promote the RIBA (note the B).

It might be a way to get other countries to take note that the RIBA exists, but by logical extension it would become a global award for global architects. Surely this takes the RIBA mission statement to promote architecture to an extreme that would result in marginalising the British architects that look to it to act on their behalf.


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