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Is architecture at last breaking through its own glass ceiling? | Rowan Moore

A welcome gold award, and now the RIBA has begun to recognise that what matters is the team

Shelley McNamara, left, and Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects. Photograph: Luke Walker
Shelley McNamara, left, and Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects. Photograph: Luke Walker

Some kind of congratulations are due to the Royal Institute of British Architects for choosing as this year’s winners of the royal gold medal for architecture the Irish practice Grafton. For Grafton Architects is run by two women, Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell, which means that for the second time since Queen Victoria awarded the first such medal in 1848, it has gone outright to members of the same sex as the late queen-empress. On two other occasions, women have won the prize together with their husband-colleagues.

This year, the RIBA could hardly have done otherwise, given a campaign by an action group called Part W to highlight the scarcity of women among the winners of the gold medal and the world’s other top awards for architecture. It is flabbergasting that this conversation still has to be had now, in 2019. Still, baby steps. The choice of Grafton can’t be faulted, either – they are outstanding architects.

But there’s another question around such awards. It’s the underlying assumption that they should recognise an inspired individual – or at most two such – about whose neck the medal might be hung. For while such individuals exist, architecture is an exceptionally collaborative business. It requires multiple talents within a particular practice, as it is rare for one person to combine the creative, technical and managerial skills to realise a building of any size and it requires clients, builders, engineers and others to make a building happen. It requires the people who use and experience a building to bring it to life.

The myth of the brilliant auteur, exemplified by the figure of Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s unintentionally hilarious The Fountainhead, is as much damaging as inspiring. In her 1943 novel, the hero (played by Gary Cooper in the subsequent movie) dynamites a housing block when he finds that his designs have been compromised. The message is clear: genius trumps all. Damn the bureaucrats! Damn the pettifoggers! Dupe the client! Bully the builders! Damn the budget!

Read on >>>> Source: The Guardian Is architecture at last breaking through its own glass ceiling? | Rowan Moore

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