RIAS Doolan Award

Gordon Murray discusses his experiences of judging the best in Scottish architecture for this year's RIAS Doolan Award. 

When Andrew Doolan launched this fantastic award in 2001, he had two main objectives in mind – to recognise excellence in new Scottish architecture and to simulate argument and conversations on that new Scottish architecture.  When I agreed to chair this year’s selection jury, I looked forward to the chance of some great conversations with the obvious prestige of selecting the RIAS Gold Medal and Doolan Prize winner. Our journey took us from Edinburgh to Wick and to Skye and Torridon in the western Highlands over four hectic days.

When this year’s jury trio – Anna Liu (Tonkin Liu), Murray Kerr (Denizen Works) and I – was established we set out a shortlist from the main awards, we were anticipating changes forthcoming next year in the reorganisation of both RIBA and RIAS awards; as well as our view that time spent in conversation with the clients and their architects was an imperative and would yield fruit. Obviously embedded in a warm Douglas fir clad interior on a Saturday morning on Skye when the rain was driving hard outside encourages a certain lethargy as well as an expanded conversation.  Seemingly a million miles from a sunny crisp Thursday morning when we stood on the canal side adjacent to the fine Boroughmuir High School.

We felt we could do no better than appraise against Vitruvius’ concepts of commodity, firmness and delight (with the emphasis on delight).  In these seven projects we saw much commodity and firmness.  Indeed, it is worth noting that four were design and build contracts, one of which was a Hub / SFT beneficiary.  Only two were traditional tendering.   In all cases the quality of the end product is a testament to the craftsmanship and constructors involved.  Architecture is a team game.  All the projects had a difficult birth, but that appears to be the nature of the industry we operate in, where creating anything of value has always been a struggle.  Each architect must surely be enervated by a happy client and here we saw seven delighted clients.  Clients with resolve, resilience, and faith; that in our view was not diminished by the process.  The best works, these the best buildings, were indeed inhabited by architecture.

The strength of the competition would ensure that the winner was indeed outstanding and in Nucleus we found that.  Beautifully designed and built as well potentially transformative as the repository of the personal histories of the people of the flow country.

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