Praxiteles wrote:Now, just to be clear about it -in case I have missed something - this is what was highly commended for a HERITAGE entry in the Opus Competition. Has THE_CHRIS seen this?
Thats the one...
Take a look at what this joker O'Connor said in the Irish Times in 2005 when they gave Victoria Mills the award:mad:
Architecture contest where judges take a look
Many architecture awards are judged just from pictures. Ciarán O'Connor explains to Emma Cullinan why the judges of the Opus Awards decided to look at the buildings as well
When Ciarán O'Connor, assistant principal architect at the OPW (Office of Public Works), was asked by Plan Expo in 1999 how it could restructure its architectural competition, he suggested that the judges should actually visit the buildings.
"I said that because I was disappointed, at the time, in the way that other competitions were done. I wouldn't cast aspertions on other award systems but I thought that just looking at pictures is a very dangerous way of judging something that is three dimensional."
Because visiting each building on the shortlist - of around 28 structures - is very time-consuming, O'Connor thought that he would never hear from Plan Expo again. But they went ahead with the idea and launched what became the Opus Awards.
Last year these changed again when it was decided to give joint awards to the architect and builder. If you don't have a symbiotic relationship between designer and contractor, then it is difficult to combine all of the elements needed to create a beautiful building, says O'Connor.
Visiting the buildings, which this year range from a small house extension in Dublin by NJBA Architects, through Heritage projects, to large schemes, such as Athlone Library and Civic Centre by Keith Williams Architects, has proved a learning experience for both O'Connor and the rest of the judges, who include building contractors and an engineer. "I enjoy going and seeing good quality work: handrails which are done very well or high quality stonework. These are all part and parcel of the process of building and should be acknowledged, but you won't experience them in a glossy picture."
The reality is that many people only experience architecture and interiors through pictures, in magazines and newspapers, but a visit does offer up a building in its unfiltered glory and it's also possible to get a feel for the atmosphere.
While the Opus shortlist, chosen this year from 135 entries, is fairly easy to draw up, from the pictures and drawings, the surprises - both good and bad - come when the judges visit the buildings. This year four buildings fell off the shortlist after they'd been visited. "In all four cases there was universal agreement. Two of them were a real surprise because the teams that were involved were people who in the past had worked to a very high standard. This time, for whatever reason, that didn't translate either in terms of the appropriateness of the design approach or the quality of the end result.
"We had an awful lot of night shots sent in for submission this year. I don't know whether people have decided that this is the 'in' way to create the right image or they think it looks best that way but there were certainly one or two projects which, in the fullness of light, did not look as well as they did at night time."
But sometimes the opposite can be true, where a picture doesn't do justice to the building. In one case, the façade was rather austere and staid yet the internal layout and build standard was excellent. "I softened when I saw the level of commitment and sheer quality of finish," says O'Connor.
In another case, last year, the judges put Box Architecture's Northern Exposure extension on the shortlist, which looked "okay" in the pictures and drawings.
"But when you walked in you just knew it was right and that feeling was almost universal. As the judges left the building we all said to each other: 'There's no issue there.' You could tell that the right decisions had been made in this extension: it was well-built but it also rose above pure utility and basic construction. It was humane, beautiful and well-executed."
In the sheltered housing and hostel in Gorey, Wexford by Paul Keogh Architects and Richard Browne and Sons, and Sonas Housing in Ringsend, Dublin by Cathal Crimmins Architects and WF Rowling, this year, the striking feature was the atmosphere and care taken. "The quality of some of the built work was really a joy and it was appreciated by the people. They were treated with dignity in the way that the buildings were designed and that was really impressive. People had put a lot of time and effort into an area of society that has been left behind by the Celtic tiger."
O'Connor thinks it is crucial to look at how original concepts are carried through to a built structure. He talks of ideas competitions "where you can get away with a lot of aspirational stuff which you don't have to translate into reality and where one concept or idea might wow a few judges. We would look at what the issues involved were, how well they were tackled and whether the end result justifies all that effort. You can start off with great notions but can you translate it?"
Rewarding the execution of a project will help dispel the notion that architects just do a few pretty sketches and that's the end of their role.While many people can imagine themselves as designers, few would be able to see a project through its building process to a stunning end result.
Experience of actual building is very helpful to architects, says O'Connor, although he finds that when he talks to students they are not keen on the idea because they think it is drudgery. Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture school in America certainly taught students to build - although many thought that it was just a cheap way of Wright having his own home built for him!
"We've had cases in the past where there was a very good idea but the way it was executed was atrocious," says O'Connor. "There's no refinement or elaboration in the process of execution so you end up with a built diagram. Sometimes it's in the way a material is used. There's a superficial knowledge, so that it is used like wallpaper, rather than knowing the history and character of the material.
"Glass, for instance, is a beautiful material but it can just become a bland finish to a building. It can seem to be the be-all and end-all of the elevation with no attempt to articulate anything. It's all got to do with the technology of how you hang the glass, which I think is a case of the tail wagging the dog.
"The technology should follow on from what you are striving to achieve rather than taking over from what you want to create. The end result can just be a big glass box or it can be something beautiful, elegant and light; which all the good glass buildings are. So it's not necessarily to do with the materials, it's to do with how they are used.
"This year there were a lot of exposed concrete finishes. In some cases they were very crude and it other cases they were very well finished. Some very dark concrete was used in an interior, which becomes very oppressive. In those cases you have to ask, do people really know what they were designing with and were the people doing the work suitably skilled to execute it? It's a questions of that yin/yang or that symbiotic relationship between architecture and building."
• The commended, highly commended and award-winning schemes in the Opus awards will be on show at Plan Expo in the RDS from November 10th to 12th
© The Irish Times