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Emerging Architecture Awards 2009

Emerging Architecture celebrates the best pieces of design by young architects from across the world. It is a parade of diverse projects that offers clues as to where the discipline might be in a few years’ time. It is, quite simply, the most important award for young architects.

We are very grateful to our sponsors this year, the support of engineer Ramboll and UK architect Austin-Smith: Lord make these amazing awards possible.

The jury selected four winners this year, but also chose the other 21 projects that appear in this edition of the AR. In addition, the jury commended a wide range of other projects, that will appear online or in future issues of the magazine. We had more entries this year than last - around 700 - a testament to the ongoing relevance of the award, and the high standards demanded of successful entries.

It is difficult to draw a common theme between projects from such diverse contexts. One obvious quality of this year’s projects is that they share a certain sincerity and seriousness.

Despite some moments of enjoyably gratuitous ingenuity or luxury (like Scenario Architecture’s extraordinary Focal Shift Fireplace, or the Ancient Tree Pavilion by Christ & Gantenbein Architects in Jinhua, China), there is almost a majority of projects this year that deal directly with social or environmental issues, subordinating architectural expression to a desire to make a socially active place.

The Million Donkey Hotel in Italy, the ‘Open Architecture’ verandah project in Tokyo, the low-budget Chapel of Cristo Salvador and the flood-proof house prototype in New Orleans are all examples of projects that deal inspiringly with economic, social, spiritual and ecological issues.

This year’s jury was superb and the AR is very grateful to them for travelling to North London from as far as New York and as close as Clerkenwell. This is not a competition where we need to hide what were differences in the views and priorities of the architects on the jury. It was a passionate debate that ranged from the detailed to the very general - there was a real question mark around where architecture should be heading, with some jurors convinced that formal experimentation and unprecedented invention should be encouraged, while others focussed on values that are perhaps more eternal: character, history and meaning.

It is right that the jury for Emerging Architecture should be as diverse as its entries, and every point of view was represented. It was an honour for me to chair such a high quality and cooperative jury.

Tony Fretton, true to the British architect’s own work, argued passionately for a typological modernism, architecture that enjoys the archetypal quality of spaces. He was an advocate for the serene Knocktopher Friary in Ireland, by ODOS Architects. Artist Thomas Heatherwick was drawn strongly to José María Sánchez García’s Sports Research Centre in Cáceres, Spain. The bold, circular building winding its way around a tree-covered peninsula stood out as the both the most simple to grasp and the most mysterious and forceful project. Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro in New York also found much to admire in the research centre.

Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects in Dublin was an advocate of the Chinese winner by Li Xiaodong - the Bridge School in Fujian Province. That project managed to integrate a contemporary architectural language with a spectacular historical landmark, while creating new and interesting spaces within for children.

All jury members stand behind the final selection and felt that the quality of the projects was outstandingly high. The awards will be honoured with a party at the RIBA in London on 1 December 2009.

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