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There was a time when young and inexperienced architects were selected for large projects on the basis of their ability, ideas, energy and commitment. This approach didn’t always pay off, but it achieved much of the best housing in Milton Keynes and other new towns, and the estates of Churchill Gardens, Lillington Gardens and Golden Lane in London, most of whose buildings are now listed and whose architects’ ages ranged from 24 to 32 when they were commissioned. It rarely happens now; modern methods of procurement tend to favour practices that have already done several examples of the building type in question and can afford to carry large insurance policies to cover themselves and their clients against every conceivable risk. Which tends to lead to predictable results.
An exception, if at a smaller scale than those housing projects, is the swimming pool at Alfriston school in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Here, says the head teacher, Jinna Male, “we didn’t just want a functional pool” but a place designed such that the pupils “would really want to go in it. If we were going to do it, we had to do it right.” The school chose Mary Duggan and Joe Morris, whose newish practice, Duggan Morris Architects, had not designed any swimming pools, or school buildings, or anything much beyond some small-scale residential and retail projects, but Male and her fellow selectors felt they “understood our needs” and had “enthusiasm and creativity”. Because it took time to raise the funds, this was seven years ago, but she now believes that her expectations were amply fulfilled. […]