At the Building Awards 2010, nobody got a monopoly on the gongs, though tales abounded of top hats, cars, battleships, horses and more than a thimbleful of Soviet spirit

Zero points for effort

A conversation overheard at last week’s Building Awards at the Grosvenor House hotel suggested that not everyone is toeing the industry’s line on sustainability. A former chief executive of a major contractor opined that he “can’t see the point of all the effort” put into addressing environmental issues. An outraged government mandarin next to him blustered about the interdependence of all life on Earth, spouting lines verbatim from a recent BBC documentary, but the ex-CEO remained unmoved, concluding: “No. It’s still a waste of time.”

That’s the team spirit

As well as the crème of the construction industry, the awards were graced by the presence of Sir Steve Redgrave, five-time gold medallist rower and occasional worldwide ambassador for Gleeds. Redgrave was in anecdotal mode, recalling the eighties, when Russia’s legendary Pimenov brothers hosted regular vodka parties for fellow rowers. While, apparently, Redgrave did his best to “avoid those parties” he admitted that one of his gold medal winning team-mates had been more than willing to accept the flask of friendship from across the Iron Curtain.

Puttin’ on the rats

Attendees of the awards were met with bizarre sight at the entrance to event at the Grosvenor House hotel. Among the milling black ties and ballgowns, was a giant rat. I wondered if the six-foot-plus creature, which turned out to be inflatable, was a mascot accompanying a local Mayfair football team. On inspection, it emerged the rodent’s face bore the word “Skanska”, one of the firms associated in the past with blacklisting construction workers, and was the property of protesters from the Blacklist Support Group. They might have put it in black tie, though … When you get to the age of 207, you begin to give up hope that anybody's going to write your biography. So thank you Penelope Harris (see P42) for righting this egregious wrong. I'm looking forward to seeing who picks up the film rights …

Operation Design Gong

Edward Cullinan Architects are a resourceful bunch, which undoubtedly helped them win architect of the year. After a trip to Libya, the firm’s Roddy Langmuir and Philip Graham found themselves stranded by the volcanic ash cloud. Instead of heading for the nearest beach, they flew to Madrid and drove to the French border. Hearing HMS Albion was sailing for Santander, they changed tack and arrived in time to be at the front of the queue when the warship docked. Thirty hours later they were back in Blighty having been regaled with tales of war in Afghanistan. No doubt they will have picked up some fighting spirit to help with next year’s awards entry.

Nagging problem

Architectural resourcefulness was a common theme on the night. Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, which picked up the best public building gong for Kentish Town Health Centre, revealed the practice had not always had things so good. He described the firm’s formative years in the early nineties as a “miserable existence”. Times got so tough that betting on horses was considered as a potential business stream. Thankfully, the firm’s fortunes improved. But considering the state of the industry now, one might wonder if the construction bosses crowding the table at the awards’ casino knew it was for charity …

Black and Blanc

Stuart Black, chairman of social housing group Lakehouse, made a bee-line for the ceremony midway through the evening after finding out his company had won a gong. Fortunately he was already in black tie, as he was at another bash nearby. It could have been worse. I gather he had toyed with being further away that night – at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons near Oxford. I trust the sweet smell of success made up for the lack of Michelin-starred food.

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