If there is one profession in Britain whose fortunes have been transformed in the last 20 years, it is surely architec-ture.
Back in the 1980s Prince Charles's attack on modernism was in full spate, and while the 1960s and 1970s certainly provided him with plenty of good ammunition, an unfortunate by-product of those morale-sapping times was a flood of timid, would-be vernacular buildings which sadly will be with us for many years to come.
But somewhere along the line architects - and, more importantly, those who commission them - have got their confidence back. The best buildings now going up in Britain are bold and unapologetic, yet far more sensitive to the people who use them than their brutalist predecessors. While volume house building might be a stubborn exception, the general standard has undoubtedly shifted upwards. What's more, the near-monopoly London once seemed to hold on high-quality design no longer applies, so that outstanding new buildings are to be found all over the country.
That is the context in which the West Midlands has just collected seven RIBA Awards, distributed between Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and Leamington.
They include Manchester architect Ian Simpson's Beetham Tower, which has added a new subtle shimmer to Birmingham's skyline, and Stanton Williams' extension to the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, which has all the satisfying simplicity already familiar from their museum design at the Gas Hall in Birmingham and at Compton Verney.
It would be surprising if Stanton Williams' brilliant re-cent makeover of a 1920s block at Cadbury's Bournville factory was not a future prizewinner, and there are several other buildings in the region that can equally confidently be tipped - for example, Pringle Richard Sharratt's extension to the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry, now nearing completion, looks stunning.
In some respects the increased ambition of developers and architects courts controversy. Proposals for a new tower to replace the NatWest building on Colmore Row has already sharply divided opinion - though not necessarily for its architectural quality - and designs for Warwick Bar by Kinetic AIU and the newly-unveiled Beorma Quarter scheme in Digbeth by Trevor Horne Architects show a challenging new robustness in their approach to historically sensitive sites.
The sheer scale of redevelopment now under way in Birmingham is unparalleled since the 1960s. Much of the architecture built at that time has failed to stand the test of time, though some of it has its admirers. With more big names working here and West Midlands architects raising their game, perhaps we will want to hang on to more of what we build this time round.