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London, UK – IM Pei at the annual RIBA Gold Medal crit

The 2009 RIBA medalists presented their projects to a sphinx-like IM Pei

It was, as RIBA president Ruth Reed called it, one of the ‘most delightful moments in the calendar’. The annual RIBA Gold Medal crit is a brief chance for the Bronze and Silver Medal-winning students to present their work to the panel that nominated them and an invited audience, with the front-row, guest-of-honour seat saved for that year’s Gold Medallist.

Richard Difford, tutor at University of Westminster, kicked things off, standing in for his absent student Rebecca Gregory, winner of the Dissertation Medal. Complex geometry and social history were dispensed with equal aplomb in her exploration of the development of 19th-century skew-bridge arches - a line of inquiry inspired by a single drawing in an 1845 edition of trade journal The Builder.

Weng Yeng-Teh was up next. Her Bronze Medal-winning project was a ‘mutually beneficial’ viewing platform and new salt-harvesting method for a site on the Galapagos, where the salt industry has driven away the once-native flamingos.

Compelling visualisations and pictures of messy salt-crystal experiments charmed the crowd. David Gloster wondered how the flamingos would know it was safe to return.

Alexandra Stara wanted to know what the project had to do with ‘architectural processes’. Why muck around with salt crystals when she should be translating tectonics into forms? James Soane of Project Orange came to Yeng-Teh’s defence - why criticise when ‘her vehicle of narrative was so powerful’? After all, he added, the project did represent a crisis of the moment.

In every crisis, opportunity. Reed pointed to the project as an example of architects’ excellent capacity to explore the interdisciplinary. When asked to comment, Mr Pei kept his counsel: ‘I’m listening,’ he said.

Silver Medallist Nicholas Szczepaniak headlined with his ‘intentionally provocative and allegorical project’. Visualisations that made HR Giger look like a big softy accompanied the description of Szczepaniak’s 10 military defense towers, located off the Blackwall estuary.

‘Are they meant to replace cities?’ asked Dominic Wilkinson. ‘We can look into that’, replied Szczepaniak, clearly getting into the swing of post-Part 2 life in practice.

Bob Sheil of the Bartlett started some rumblings - who is the intended audience of this project? Papers were shuffled, weight shifted on seats. But just as Szczepaniak was about to be put through his paces - time, ladies and gentlemen, was up.

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