Phil Coffey hails the good things that have happened in the 25 years since the aspiring architect’s murder

Phil coffey c tim soar

In the early ’90s, as students of architecture, we studied on drawing boards, text was rubbed on with Letraset, we scraped on trace instead of Control Z. The modernist estates were middle aged, Zaha Hadid was just about to win the Cardiff Bay Opera House competition and The Sackler Gallery won the Stirling Prize. It seems like a very long time ago.

But not for one family. As Stuart Lawrence recounted at the 25th Memorial Service for the tragic death of his brother, “it still feels like yesterday”.

Stephen Lawrence wanted to be an architect. He was cruelly murdered in an unprovoked racist act on April 22, 1993 when he was 18 years old and, ever since, the Lawrence family have been seeking justice, a story emotionally yet rationally explained in the recent documentary Stephen still available on iPlayer.

Through the darkness of that day, however, a light has been shone on architecture. The Stephen Lawrence Trust has helped numerous young professionals from disadvantaged backgrounds, in both architecture and other disciplines, through an expensive education, to fulfil their dreams. And the trust, in association with the Marco Goldschmied Foundation, has been awarding the RIBA Stephen Lawrence Prize since 1998. The students who have come through the trust, those who have won the prize and all of those touched by this tragedy are now making a difference in our communities.

The world which the documentary dives into, of 1993 sink estates where isolated community feedback reinforced prejudice like a yesteryear physical Facebook, has changed for the better, but there is still a long way to go. The influence architecture has on communities in this sense is a wide debate, but there is no doubt we would be a lot further back were it not for the tragedy and the tireless work done in its wake. Doreen Lawrence’s continued efforts in our profession in memory of her son are inspirational and it is an association that we as architects should cherish and support where we can.

So go watch the documentary, get involved with the trust, sponsor a bursary, do what you can to help. April 22 is now to be Stephen Lawrence Day, a fitting reminder of his continued legacy; it would be good if this was somehow acknowledged by our profession. Step up the RIBA?

Twenty five years on and the students of 1993, like many others since, have been touched by the visceral personal experience of the Lawrence family and the political shift that occurred in this country. As a result we should now all be making architecture through a more human lens, building stronger communities as more thoughtful architects, which is what Stephen could have been doing today if the world was a kinder place.

 

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