Architecture needs to make its voice heard in government and client circles - and that’s exactly what the first winner of BD’s Female Architectural Leader Award is doing, says Elizabeth Hopkirk

elizabeth hopkirk

Amid the relentless grind of deadlines and project meetings, let’s take a moment to celebrate the achievements of all the winners of this year’s AYAs.

BD’s Architect of the Year Awards are among the most coveted of trophies in a crowded arena, in part because they recognise a whole body of work, not just a single project.

I was one of the judges this year and can testify to the virtuosity of work submitted for scrutiny by a panel that included not just leading architects but also clients, a contractor and an engineer.

The shortlists were filled with exceptional schemes that demonstrate why British architecture is the toast of the globe – and what we have to lose if Brexit steals half our talent.

The overall winner, Jamie Fobert, submitted four fantastic projects, led by his masterly expansion of Tate St Ives which prompted the judges to describe his entry as a “slam dunk” – despite the extremely high quality of the other shortlisted entries.

This year’s YAYA winner, Gatti Routh Rhodes, impressed with the breadth of its entry, ranging from the scale of a (remarkably light and very comfortable) stackable plywood chair to a built block of flats containing a church, offices and café.

We can confidently expect this young practice to be a contender for the Gold Award in another few years – a path already trodden by Carmody Groarke which won YAYA in 2007 and took top honours last year. Most past YAYA winners have gone on to become household names (we’re talking architects’ households, of course) which is testament to their talent but also to the keen eye of our judges and, let’s not be modest, to the kudos of the award.

This year we launched two new categories: Employer of the Year (hats off to JTP) and Female Leader, won by Sadie Morgan.

Some will question the value of a female-specific award in 2019. Indeed a few weeks ago we reported the view of new AA director Eva Franch that language such as “women in architecture” merely perpetuates the problem of female under-representation.

I hope in a very few years we will be able to drop the category. But while we’re still losing a third of the women who begin part I, we need role models – both to encourage the next generation and to challenge myopic thinking further up the food chain. We need family-friendly employment practices, fair pay and bosses who nurture members of staff with more creativity than confidence (for all our sakes).

Sadie Morgan

Sadie Morgan

As Andy Groarke – one of this year’s judges – noted on a recent job, female project leaders still come up against antediluvian attitudes from some clients and builders wanting to deal with a man. “We need role models to say, ‘You can have a fruitful and rewarding career in this industry that does still have its shady sides’,” he said.

Whether or not you agree, two things are indisputable. Sadie Morgan has set the bar high as the first winner. And she would have won had the award been open to everyone.

>> Also read: Sadie Morgan named Female Architectural Leader 2019

She is a gifted designer, and that’s got to be the starting point. But she has also succeeded in doing what precious few architects manage: advocating for quality design at the highest echelons.

Architects are generous in giving up their time to lecture and debate – but all too often they are speaking to each other. If things are ever going to change in this country we need politicians and clients to understand the importance of good design and planning.

Morgan chairs the HS2 design panel, is a National Infrastructure Commissioner and a design advocate for the mayor of London. Last year she gave 33 keynote speeches.

How many other architects can say that? We should all try and be a bit more like Sadie Morgan.