Over the past few years I've been playing competition Monopoly. I started off on Old Kent Road with "best dressed dog" at my village fete.
I gave the year's supply of dog food to a three-legged Jack Russell in a Hawaiian grass skirt and garlands. I bloody hate Jack Russells, but I think I've smoothed the path of my new extension.
Next it was a raft of fashion awards, trying to select the student with the most ridiculous imagination, and up to the Whitehall of product design through to Regent Street with the Oxo Peugeot Awards. Then, a couple of months ago, some bright spark at the RIBA contacts that poncy fashion designer who thinks he's an architect 'cos he's doing some houses for Wimpey and gets him on the Stirling Prize panel. Mayfair!
I've never been able to resist hotels on Mayfair. But there are pitfalls. First, you are visible and if something goes wrong there will be plenty of players (architects and out-of-touch critics called Jonathan Meades) to revel in your misfortune. I was, however, put off Monopoly for life when I was told it was a five-day judging process. Five days closeted with architects talking about form following function while stroking their beards and brushing dandruff off their black polo necks filled me with nostalgia for a certain yapping three-legged Jack Russell dressed as a hula girl.
First stop was a flight to Newcastle to visit Wilkinson Eyre's Millennium Bridge. I am renowned for being antisocial and use flights to catch up on emails, so I checked in alone. As I got my laptop out, however, my fellow judges introduced themselves. Paul Finch (a member of CABE) has a beard but it's not pointed and wears right-up-my-street cream BHS-style flasher mac. Paul Hyett (president of the RIBA) wears polo necks but in a pensioner-chic taupe. Farshid Moussavi of Foreign Office Architects does dress like an architect but she doesn't have a beard. Kate Mosse (founder of the Orange Prize, author and, to my surprise, head of governors at my daughters' school) is a fellow "unqualified one".
Bring on the first contestant.
I love the Millennium Bridge for what it's done for Gateshead's increasingly buoyant conurbation. Some of the jury questioned whether it was a building. Luckily I could help them by pointing out that it's in fact a bridge. More than that, it's a bridge that makes lots of people happy, is used by thousands and looks fantastic. It has become, in a very short space of time, a British icon every bit as recognisable as the London Eye and a sculpture that belongs to north-east England every bit as much as The Angel of The North.
Five days closeted with architects talking about form following function while brushing dandruff off their black polo necks filled me with nostalgia for a certain yapping three-legged Jack Russell dressed as a hula girl …
By 10.30am we were on our way to Edinburgh and the Dance Base in Grassmarket. It's not the tidiest of buildings and for the architects it was time to stroke those imaginary pointy beards as they found plenty wrong with the detailing. It's a lot of building for £5m, though, and the clever use of views of the castle must be inspiring for the students. The building may not be a masterpiece but again it leaves local people with a wonderful facility, and the fact that great thought has been put into how it can be used by the disabled makes the scheme a model.
Next stop: Dublin and the Millennium Wing of the National Gallery of Ireland. This certainly split the jury. Its bold artistic approach was welcomed by yours truly, but some were of the opinion that an art space should be minimal so as not to distract. I think that this underestimates the intelligence of the gallery visitor. Surely if they have an eye for art they can appreciate architecture too? Having said that, some of the visual trickery is a bit over-egged.
The next day all of us were to spend 10 hours driving around the South-east in a people carrier. Joy of joys. First stop was the Hampden Gurney School in London W1. This is a real pointer to how to use inner city land. A one- and two-storey school is demolished, a six-storey school is built with a semi-outdoors playground on each level and an environmental studies section on the roof. A fantastic concept, very crisply done.
Next stop is the Lloyd's Register Of Shipping in the City. I like how this is a surprising piece of modernism hidden behind a historical facade and can understand why its neat finish, symmetry, clarity (am I sounding like an architect yet?) and use of a space should get some of the jury pulling their chins, but it's a bit goldfishbowly for me – and 70 million quid!
Final stop of the day was at the Weald and Downland Museum in West Sussex and the lovely Ted Cullinan's inspirational Downland Gridshell. Built in green oak by 12 carpenters who evidently had a ball, the structure feels like it's been there for centuries and as such is a fine addition to this fine museum. This building will be admired by thousands and copied by hundreds. I can imagine shed enthusiasts putting a DIY gridshell onto their pride and joy.
The last day was spent in a small town north of Düsseldorf to see a very cool, smoothly finished, cleverly landscaped and expensive-looking headquarters for German mass retailer "Family". Very strange to see such a highbrow building for such a lowbrow company, but David Chipperfield made a wise decision to run away from the circus and try his hand at architecture.