International fellowships that balance bleaker headlines
UNLESS you have been in contact with, or are a member of, the architectural profession, you may be unaware that we have just enjoyed Royal Gold Medal Week. It has seen a UK-wide programme of events to accompany the announcement of the winner of the annual Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal.
In 2016, shortly before her death, it was presented to the designer of Glasgow’s Riverside Museum, Zaha Hadid, and this year the recipient is Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Brazil’s most celebrated living architect, and only the second from his country so honoured, following Oscar Niemeyer in 1998.
Awarded since 1848, the list of medallists includes just about every architect anyone has heard of, including Frank Gehry (2000), Norman Foster (1983), and Frank Lloyd Wright (1941).
But Royal Gold Medal Week is also an opportunity for the RIBA to confer international and honorary fellowships to people who are perhaps not quite as famous. The international fellowships are, unsurprisingly, a way for the British institute to recognise the talent from overseas that influences, teaches, and sometimes builds architecture here, while the honorary ones go to people who may not be trained in the profession but who have made a contribution. Even journalists have their place, with the BBC’s Razia Iqbal one of this year’s recipients for her World Service interviews with some of the great names of the profession (including Hadid and Foster), alongside Marcus Fairs, founder and editor-in-chief of design website Dezeen, and Christine Murray, editor-inchief of The Architects’ Journal.
There is an international dimension to these awards too, with a Swiss publisher, the secretary general of the Architects’ Council of Europe and the director of the Irish Architecture Foundation honoured alongside Neil Baxter, secretary and treasurer of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. His preferment was the reason I found myself in a lecture theatre of architecture students, academics and distinguished members of the profession at one of the week’s opening events as a friend of some 40 years standing since our studies overlapped at Glasgow University (although I’d best add that he is some years my junior).
Neil was in the potentially invidious position of both introducing the Scottish event of Gold Medal Week and being one of the honourees, but coped in his characteristic laid-back style with a brisk trot through his career as well as a welcome for the Portuguese partnership of Francisco Vieira de Campos and Christina Guedes of Menos e Mais (Less is More) in Oporto, and Swedish architect Johan Celsing. Upstaging everyone, Celsing memorably recited from memory W H Auden’s The Shield of Achilles as an illustration of the crossdiscipline influences that come to bear on his art. This international assembly was mirrored through the week in Belfast, Coventry, Plymouth, Liverpool and London, and – as the RIBA surely intended – was an eloquent response to a news agenda dominated by isolationist rhetoric in the US and at Westminster.
In a rather more local instance of fellowship, yesterday saw the annual gathering of Herald journalists of days of yore, which generously made me an honorary fellow a few years back. Missing this year, although without the excuse of a Scottish Chamber Orchestra concert at the City Halls, was Michael Tumelty, whose absence you will have noted from these pages. Michael is recovering, slowly, from a stroke he suffered on Hogmanay, and it is more than time that I passed on his thanks for all the good wishes he has received from readers and music-lovers.