Gold medal-winning architecture


With more than 50 years in architecture, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw has well and truly earned his RIBA Gold Medal, the UK’s highest accolade in this field.

Famous to everyone for the Eden Project and Waterloo International Terminal – and to those like me with roots in Leicestershire for the National Space Centre – this is an architect whose style celebrated almost from the start the industrial, the structural and the utilitarian.

High tech before it became a commonplace term and with a reputation for infrastructure, railway stations and airports that belies his practice’s wide reach from cultural and innovation centres to sports venues, “…this master of Meccano has always defied being labelled,” commented Oliver Wainwright last week in The Guardian.

It is a rich output and legacy that deserves celebrating.

But there is a flip side to this medal, too. In 170 years, the RIBA has awarded this medal solely to a woman only once. Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey received the honour together in 2015, as did Patricia and Michael Hopkins in 1994, and Ray and Charles Eames in 1979.

Clearly Zaha Hadid, another creator of iconic forms, deserves every bit of recognition coming her way. The queen of the curve created structures that frequently seemed to defy logic and capture the imagination as well as gathering architectural awards.

And we want to agree with former RIBA Jane Duncan on the medal’s record, “I don’t think we should be saying we’ve got to give people an award because they are a man or a woman. It should be based on merit.” Indeed Hadid herself was keen not to be characterised as a woman architect.

But 169:1 is no kind of golden ratio. More women in architecture need more recognition for their work.

So praise, too, this week for Part W and its alternative gold medal campaign, launched on the same day as the 2019 RIBA announcement and looking to crowdsource nominations from everyone for women whose work in the built environment deserves to be equally well-known.

“From today we’re inviting people from across the industry and those working in engineering, urban design, planning and education to nominate ideas for people whom they’d like to see celebrated on an alternative list that would award women – back to 1848 – who have made a significant contribution to the built environment,” founder Zoë Berman said to Dezeen. “It’s meant to be a tongue-and-cheek, playful, way to draw attention to what is an important and serious discussion.”

So with this in mind – and to contribute – tweet PartWCollective with your nomination, #WeArePartW#AlternativeRoyalMedal#NominateHer.

Who are you going put forward?