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Editorial: The future success of an architect requires the ability to sell a dream

Terracotta studio tropical space

This is design to make you feel – spatial playgrounds carved out, punched through, undulating

The finalists in this year’s AR Emerging Architecture Awards have forgone the luminescence of Silicon Valley toys; the slickness of screens and renders. Instead among these 18 projects we find a culinary architecture – all flavour and texture. There is a celebration of craftsmanship, light and views, plans and sections cranked for no function but the joy of the visitor. A participatory architecture – perhaps inspired by the winner of last year’s prize, the red labyrinthine staircase by Supermachine Studio – it invites you to come and play.

Although architectural awards have proliferated since the launch of this accolade in 1999, few honours have the legacy or the £10,000 prize fund that accompany AR Emerging Architecture. In their first year alone, the awards recognised Shigeru Ban, Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Sauerbruch Hutton, selected from some 900 entries. The AR can take no credit for their individual talents, but the award galvanised the success of these architects by promoting them on a global stage.

The impetus to launch a prize for emerging architects was to ‘discover talent in an as yet generally unrecognised generation’ – so wrote then editor Peter Davey in the inaugural awards edition. The upper age limit for entrants was set at 45 because it was felt unlikely that an architect could produce anything of their own with ‘clear personal expression’ much before then. As little has changed with regards to the length of training and apprenticeship required in the profession, to be under the age of 45 is still a criterion to enter the awards, but the prize fund, once divided among several winners, is now given to a single recipient. The small judging panel changes from year to year, and has included too many luminaries to mention – this year’s panel comprises Valerio Olgiati, Charles Holland and Benedetta Tagliabue.

As a first in the history of the awards, which have always been judged on A3 boards submitted by the architects, we have not announced the winner in this edition. As I write this, the finalists are travelling to London to present their project to the judges, after which the prize will be awarded. While it would be preferable to visit the projects in person – as we do for other AR Awards before choosing a winner – the presentations provide the opportunity for these young architects to meet the judges, and form an integral part of the process. After all, the future success of an architect does not depend solely on their creativity as expressed in a single project, but also requires the ability to sell a dream.

As an arbiter of talent, Emerging Architecture has anointed many on the basis of their work. But if we consider the awards’ most successful alumni – Bjarke Ingels, Sou Fujimoto, Thomas Heatherwick and company – a common link is the charisma of the architects themselves. Across a dining table, they unfailingly make for enthralling company, which can also be said of Foster, Moussavi, Levete, Piano and Zumthor. The cult of personality has become even more important in this starmaker age, where everyone is a brand. But celebrity aside, even an unknown architect must be capable of communicating ideas clearly and with passion. There must be an abundance of optimism and conviction – enough to convince a client to part with a significant sum of money, and weather the obfuscation of building permissions and the setbacks of construction to spur a project on.

As editors, we are excited when we discover never-before-seen projects. Awards have made it easier for architects to make themselves known to us – sending in their work for consideration. Although awards programmes have become ubiquitous (and vary wildly in quality), the better prizes can help drive a career as an independent marker of quality. As for the shortlisting, what a journey: there were entries from every continent except Antarctica, from temporary pavilions to national museums. I wish the finalists the best of luck and I look forward to meeting them in London.