Architect of the Year 2012

By Alan Clawley.

The shortlists of architects in the running for the title of Architect of the Year 2012 has been published by Building Design magazine.

Birmingham’s Glenn Howells has made the shortlist in two out of the 14 categories – ‘Housing’, and ‘Education (6th Form to University)’. Howells’ practice does not get into the shortlist in the ‘Masterplanning’, ‘Environmental Excellence’ or ‘Refurbishment’ categories.

I’m sure Glenn Howells can explain why this is. His latest housing scheme with Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs is much admired. New education projects are becoming more rare following the cuts in school building programmes. Demand for various types of projects rises and falls with the economy and the vagaries of public funding and no architect or master planner can be expected to be brilliant at every aspect of his or her profession all of the time.

Paradise Circus

Paradise Circus

Nevertheless I feel that any award must reflect the public reaction to new projects from the architectural press, fellow architects, master planners and the public in general. So when these reactions have been noticeably muted or even hostile, as in the case of Paradise Circus, it would be surprising to find them winning an award. Howells would no doubt prefer to forget the headline in the Birmingham Post in March this year (Paradise Circus design ‘appalling’) in which George Demidowiz was reported as saying that he disliked the scheme so much, he did not know where to begin with his criticisms. Andy Foster called it an extremely poor plan.

I know that Howells has tried to accommodate criticism from them since, but I wonder if he has gone far enough, given the strength of their reactions. The subsequent silence from the Conservation and Heritage Panel should not be taken as implied consent to the latest scheme.

Birmingham's Rotunda

Birmingham’s Rotunda refurbished

Friends of the Central Library want to retain and refurbish the Central Library building when it no longer serves as a library. Howells has already refurbished the Custard Factory and the Rotunda, both of which were rescued from demolition by imaginative owners. When capital finance is in short supply, I would have expected refurbishment to be a big part of any architect’s workload and that Howells would be well-placed to do it.

But for now I can only hope his time will come when he will make the shortlist for the refurbishment of the Central Library as well as for the masterplanning of Paradise Circus. With such a combination he might even make it into ‘environmental excellence’.