In­ter­na­tional fel­low­ships that bal­ance bleaker head­lines

The Herald - Arts - - OPINION - KEITH BRUCE

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.

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