Updated: Aug 5
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Starting from Zero.
Award night summons a strange flock of ghouls from within the collective architectural soul. Otherwise collaborative colleagues and habitually lateral-thinking designers, succumb to a darker side of the creative force and a ravenous, primal beast emerges. It is a night of confrontation almost too terrible to countenance. Not all survive it.
When the morning papers hit the pavements proclaiming the contest finally over, the columns are read with sick fascination to see who is left standing?
Which firm is revealed to house the new enfant terrible? Who is it that shall rise to stand atop the pile, triumphantly mount his own edifice, and brandish the golden accolade for all to see? And oh dear, which poor sods received the thumbs down this year to be thrown to the critics, devoured on the spot?
On the night, eyes dart, narrowed, from face to face, bow ties are straightened; visceral wit lashes the displayed contenders, and brittle laughter crackles in the high, tense, atmosphere. It’s a terrifying sight for any newbies on the block, and certainly not an event for the squeamish. One hundred and fifty or so men and a handful of women, all snarling in self-defensive attack beneath a thin veneer of socialized politeness, inflicting wounds that will take at least a year to mend, some never. Smaller, surface scratches are forgiven over dinner. Some clashes may even accidentally cement radical elements together that go on to create True Art and claim the elusive bi-annual European and RIBA world architectural award. The really big one.
Arriving fashionably late, Bart stumbled through the main doors of the Beaux Arts pavilion and gazed grimly down at the scene. Penguin suits clotted, broke and reformed in restless clumps, littering the pristine expanse of white marble in a manic, monochromatic kaleidoscope. It was dizzying. His hand automatically closed around the proffered glass as
though controlled by radar, and without a glance at the drinks attendant, he lurched forward down the flight of gradual steps into the amphitheatre. Gritting his teeth into a fixed leer, Bart circled the periphery with suspicion, steeling himself not to flinch if spotted. This arena was not for the sensitive.
“Arena,” he muttered. “Great name for project 10.” He thought of making a note of it; he would have forgotten by morning. Making up his mind, he gripped the stem of the glass between third and fourth finger and tried to extract his notebook and pencil from his pocket. Any pocket. It must be somewhere. Wine slopped onto the marble. Feeling several eyes homing in on his clumsiness, he stopped rummaging and drained his glass. He aimed
it at the surface of a table; the exact boundary between white draped table and white floor, indistinguishable. The glass landed safely more by luck than precision of execution.
It was as he finally located the notebook that the apparition appeared. A vision in aquamarine silk passed through the crowd like an exotic feather over a checkers board, and took away his breath. He glimpsed a finely drawn Boticellian profile, with dark hair piled high above it, displaying an exquisite neck and line of spine. A long string of pearls slung back to front, drawing attention to the magnificent swoop of naked back. The mystery woman floated toward the terrace doors with regal elegance. She seemed as tall as Bart himself, and he had the genetic fortune to look down on most of his peers, at least in stature if nothing else. His antics had not gone unnoticed, however, and the senior partner of the firm approached, no doubt intent on damage control lest any rivals grasped the opportunity for ridicule. But the vision of beauty was escaping. He craned his neck to see her glide without pause from the room.
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