Culture: The Shape of Things to Come; Excellence in Architecture and Product Design Will Be Rewarded at This Year's BDI West Midlands Design Awards 2002. in the First of a Two-Part Series, Andrew Davies Looks at the Schemes Shortlisted for the Architecture and Environmental Design Categories

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Byline: Andrew Davies

Our built environment in the West Midlands is changing constantly. That much is obvious from a quick look out of almost any window in Birmingham's city centre.

While architects and planners are the first to admit mistakes were made in the past with projects such as the Bull Ring and the 'concrete collar' of the innercity Queensway ring road in the 1960s and 70s, the city, and indeed the region, has been transforming itself over the last few years. With schemes such as Centenary Square, Brindleyplace, the revamped Victoria Square and New Street and the Mailbox, the city now boasts a swatch of exemplarilydesigned buildings and urban planning schemes that have received national and international attention.

And this year more than 70 schemes have been put forward by almost as many architects for the BDI West Midlands Design Awards 2002.

Now, 24 schemes have been shortlisted from the 78 entries under the six categories: architecture; landscape; conservation; urban design; sustainability; and interiors.

The architects nominated range in size from small, one-man band practices to the design departments of property development companies and large national design corporations.

And the schemes themselves vary in size and scope from contemporary domestic extensions on listed buildings to sports club pavilions, art galleries and heritage centres, to schools and shopping centres, pavements and parks to cathedral grounds.

Awards administrator Richard Snell said Birmingham Design Initiative awards were set up more than ten years ago to raise the profile of the city and the region's architecture and environmental design.

'The organisation has been going for some time - the idea is to promote and lobby for the interests of excellence in environmental design,' says Snell. 'The BDI was set up by a group of architects, planners and property developers with the aim of promoting debate among the general public as well as among various government panels.' The built environment still plays the major part of the competition, despite product design categories being added into the biennial awards for the first time two years ago.

'The aim of the awards is firstly to promote the region - that's particularly true of the product design sections, which have received backing from Advantage West Midlands. Secondly, it's about raising people's awareness of what's going on and actually contributing to the environment and the debate about how it is changing for the better, and how it's changing with relation to social changes such as consideration of disability and sustainability, which is a category for the first time this year.

'What we've also tried to do in recent years is be less focused on Birmingham - in the last competition the New Art Gallery, Walsall was the building that won the top architecture prize.

'Advantage West Midlands encouraged us to look more widely as well, which has given us the problem of firstly having to go much further to visit all of the entrants, as most of them actually required us to go and visit them to get a sense of the materials, spaces and other aspects.

'I thought the standard of architecture was exceptionally high. The awards have become quite respected awards and people have begun to covet them as something they'd like to have on their shelves.'

The number of categories has grown, as has the number of entrants, says Snell. 'The interiors section was one area that had a limited entry last time, but this year it's been very good. …