We have often asked on blablablarchitecture: if WHAT_architecture awarded an architectural prize what or to whom would it be for? The RIBA has a client Award recognising “the key role that a good client plays in the creation of fine architecture”. In their nomination of Argent, David Chipperfield Architects wrote: “In an industry that is constantly under pressure to deliver projects on time and on budget, Argent remains an extremely supportive and stimulating company to work with.” Wow. That endorsement sounds banally like doing one’s job leveraged to the role of architectural messiah.

To understand more about the architectural awards culture, WHAT_architecture researched (okay googled) ‘architectural awards’. The evidence is compelling: 1. At least one architectural award is given out each day of the year. Since google threw up ‘about 39,700,000 results for ‘architecture + award’ perhaps the upper parameter is more like ‘a hundred thousand’ awards each day. This reminds me of my attendance at the Bangladeshi Football Awards in 2014 and so keen were the community that everyone emerge a winner, that there were excess trophies with the compere asking the audience to come forward such that no one shall leave empty handed. 2. There are few gongs handed out for architecture failure. Building Design has the Carbuncle Cup… In Bleak Houses by Timothy J. Brittain-Catlin, the publisher (MiT Press) writes that “the usual history of architecture is a grand narrative of soaring monuments and heroic makers. But it is also a false narrative in many ways, rarely acknowledging the personal failures and disappointments of architects. In Bleak Houses, Timothy Brittain-Catlin investigates the underside of architecture, the stories of losers and unfulfillment often ignored by an architectural criticism that values novelty, fame, and virility over fallibility and rejection. Brittain-Catlin tells us about Cecil Corwin, for example, Frank Lloyd Wright’s friend and professional partner, who was so overwhelmed by Wright’s genius that he had to stop designing; about architects whose surviving buildings are marooned and mutilated; and about others who suffered variously from bad temper, exile, lack of talent, lack of documentation, the wrong friends, or being out of fashion. As architectural criticism promotes increasingly narrow values, dismissing certain styles wholesale and subjecting buildings to a Victorian litmus test of “real” versus “fake,” Brittain-Catlin explains the effect that this superficial criticality has had not only on architectural discourse but on the quality of buildings. The fact that most buildings receive no critical scrutiny at all has resulted in vast stretches of ugly modern housing and a pervasive public illiteracy about architecture. Architecture critics, Brittain-Catlin suggests, could learn something from novelists about how to write about buildings. Alan Hollinghurst in The Stranger’s Child, for example, and Elizabeth Bowen in Eva Trout vividly evoke memorable houses. Thinking like novelists, critics would see what architectural losers offer: episodic, sentimental ways of looking at buildings that relate to our own experience, lessons learned from bad examples that could make buildings better.”

Tim Britt Catlin talks Failure


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