Stirling Prize 2023 shortlist revealed – ADC
A strong sense of social purpose unites the six projects shortlisted for the 2023 RIBA Stirling Prize for the best new building in the UK.
Photograph by Jim Stephenson
Six projects have made it to this year’s Stirling Prize shortlist, announced today (Wednesday 6 September).
The RIBA is keen to underline the fact that this year’s shortlist “doesn’t necessarily shout bling” and that each of the six selected projects “aims to strengthen a particular community, provide a purposeful response to an immediate and complex social challenge, and solve problems.”
RIBA President Muyiwa Oki said: “The 2023 Stirling Prize shortlist illustrates why architecture matters to all of us. These six remarkable buildings offer thoughtful, creative responses to the really complex challenges we’re facing today. Whether it’s tackling loneliness, building communities, or preserving our heritage, these projects lay out bold blueprints for purposeful architecture.
Amidst a backdrop of housing shortages, growing inequality, and economic uncertainties, this year’s shortlist demonstrates that well-designed buildings can offer genuinely inspiring solutions to our most pressing problems.”
The winner will be announced live in Manchester at the Stirling Prize ceremony on 19 October 2023.
The six shortlisted projects are:
Lavender Hill Courtyard Housing by Sergison Bates Clapham
Photograph by Johan Dehlin
Tucked away down a timber-lined passageway, barely visible at the end of a Clapham mews, Lavender Hill Courtyard sees the redevelopment of a former sheet-metal workshop into nine apartments of various sizes, arranged around a courtyard space and a timber-decked terrace on the first floor.
The judges were impressed by the project’s success at inserting a dense development into a very constrained site. The unassuming entrance to the site opens up into the welcoming courtyard that is accessible to all units and creates a sheltered communal space and sense of privacy amongst the busy surroundings. Bedrooms are on the lower floor level, with windows opening onto communal or private courtyards. On the first floor, living spaces are open to daylight and views.
The construction is well executed. The attention to detail and a simple yet considered sense of materials, both internally and externally, create a different character to each apartment. Interiors have high ceilings with exposed joists, terracotta and oak floors, and glazed screens giving a homely
feel that residents build upon to add their own character. New façades, meanwhile, reflect the Victorian industrial heritage of the site rather than the domestic Victorian architecture of the surrounding terraces. Units have intuitive internal layouts that allow multiple views across the site, with each apartment having a different relationship to the courtyard.
Although reuse of the existing workshop building could not deliver homes of sufficient quality, the architects engaged with circular economy principles, carefully dismantling the structure so that materials could be reused. Some of the reclaimed bricks were used for reconstructing the garden walls, and the remainder were graded and sold for reconstruction elsewhere. By opting for brick as the principal material, the new building can similarly be dismantled and reused when it reaches the end of its life.
John Morden Centre by Mae
Photograph by Jim Stephenson
Founded in 1695, Morden College is a charity dedicated to providing older people in need with a home for life, including the provision of residential and nursing care. Residents live on the Grade I-listed college site in Blackheath, which is attributed to English architect Sir Christopher Wren. The John Morden Centre is a daycare centre housing social and medical facilities for all residents.
The brief was to bring functions from across the college, including a medical centre, cafe, lounges and administrative offices, into a single building. Mae Architects’ concept was to provide a meandering timber ‘spine’ that stitches together a series of brick ‘pavilions’ housing the various care and enrichment programmes.
The architectural character of the building mediates between the formal and informal, the grand and the intimate. The brick entrance façade with its steep pitched roofs has a formal grandeur, appropriate as a backdrop to the adjacent Wren building. This leads into a ‘spine’ which forms an enclosed meandering forest-like walkway. From the outside, this is expressed as a colonnade, again referencing the formal colonnade of the Wren building. From inside you are constantly moving between views of the garden and into rooms to dwell. Each turn of the spine is celebrated – a snippet of a room, a shaft of daylight, a pause. This heightens your sense of discovery as you progress or as the day changes. There are plenty of places to sit and rest. A concealed handrail or built in seating runs throughout – important should you have a wobbly turn. Privacy is very carefully dealt with – through defensible space, appropriate height windows and screening.
The brick pavilions formed from a CLT structure with their steep pitched roofs house a medical centre, consultation rooms, art space, café and offices. These are voluminous, warm in character and have ample daylight – ideal for passing time. The ‘chimneys’ can be opened for ventilation on warmer days. Glimpses are always apparent through and between spaces encouraging you in, allowing for chance encounters or to circumnavigate any tricky neighbours. The route terminates into a larger hall – part of the existing building on the site – which has been seamlessly integrated. The building, whilst warm and welcoming, also appears simple, robust and well detailed which should allow it to mature well over time.The project provides a delightful set of meandering spaces which expertly combines recreational and more tricky medical facilities without feeling institutional. Such stimulating spaces are vital to conquer loneliness and isolation. It is beautifully yet robustly detailed and should be a joy to use for years to come.
Central Somers Town Community Facilities and Housing by Adam Khan Architects
Photograph by David Grandorge
Central Somers Town Community Facilities and Housing are part of a larger masterplan commissioned by the London Borough of Camden for an extensive area within the very deprived Central London neighbourhood of Somers Town, adjacent to St Pancras station. Adam Khan Architects was assigned Plot no.10 and asked to design and supervise the construction of a flexible community children’s facility as well as that of several housing units for social rent.
These buildings have been very well received both by tenants and the wider community. The ground floor is occupied by a successful, robustly detailed post-school club for 4-11-year-olds that also welcomes parents onto its premises; and by a theatre education charity called Scene & Heard which engages 400 children. The former also has a very generous outdoor adventure playground, much appreciated by many children in the area. Internally, Douglas Fir glazed partitions are used to create functional rooms and cosy nooks, bringing intimacy and calm to the space. By incorporating a large football pitch at rooftop level, the architect was able to adhere to a challenging constraint of no loss of existing open space on the site.
The taller red-brick housing is both confident and challenging. The ubiquitous red brick recurs throughout, along with a string of unconventional, swooping inverted arches that enclose the rooftop pitch, a motif that’s repeated across the park. Inside, the flats are generous, with large windows protected by European-style metal roller blinds, allowing for natural ventilation and cooling.
University of Warwick – Faculty of Arts, Coventry by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Photograph by Hufton + Crow
The impressive new Faculty of Arts building for the University of Warwick brings together the departments and schools of the faculty under a single roof for the first time. It is evident that this simple mission became the driving principle behind the entire scheme, to create a vehicle for collaboration and cross pollination of the arts, whilst drawing inspiration from the site’s unique parkland context. Here the architects have woven these two agendas into one cohesive design concept that has been executed with skill and craft.
The building itself is shaped by the surrounding trees that define the parkland character of the site. This is achieved through four pavilion buildings connected by a lightweight atrium and sculptural timber larch stair. The fragmented relationship between the individual pavilion buildings opens up axial views from the main atrium space onto the mature trees that surround the site. This connection with nature is reinforced by the atrium’s natural ventilation system and the terracotta cladding that references the earthy tones of the local geology.
Furthermore, the site’s parkland character is woven into the fabric of the building in how it fulfils the client’s desire to create a multidisciplinary space that encourages collaboration between the various faculties within it. The feature staircase, inspired by the structure of a tree, organically grows through the central atrium space, each branch helping to demarcate various communal spaces to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration. At the base of the stair, it splays like a tree’s root ball to form an amphitheatre that activates the ground floor and addresses the main entrance.
The combination of the client’s ambitions to create a new model of working for the faculty, and the architect’s creativity in articulating this ambition through a holistic design approach, has resulted in a building that is both inviting and flexible, enabling collaboration, creativity, and innovation.
Courtauld Connect – The Courtauld Institute of Art by Witherford Watson Mann
Photograph by Philip Vile
The transformation of the Courtauld Gallery in its home at Somerset House, London is the first part of a multi-phase project that aims to open up the institution both physically and culturally.
The gallery occupies the central section of the Grade I-listed Somerset House, facing onto the Strand. Designed by William Chambers in the late 18th century as the Royal Academy and occupied by the Courtauld Institute since the early 1990s, the most recent reworking of the gallery has been designed by Witherford Watson Mann. On first glance the jury struggled to understand what the architects had done, as much of it is immensely subtle. The three main moves that transform the gallery are the insertion of a lift, the reworking of the entrance sequence, including a beautiful new stair down to the basement visitor facilities, and re-levelling and opening up the vaults below the entrance to provide a flowing, level space. However, after spending time in the galleries some of the architect’s less obvious interventions can begin to be read. The volume of the ‘Great Room’ exhibition space at the top of the building, above the entrance, has been re-revealed after previously being divided up, a new temporary exhibition gallery has been carved out of an office and an attic roof space, and a new gallery has been created at first-floor level from an old painting store.
The work to open up the vaults is a real engineering feat. Cast in-situ beneath the main vehicular entrance to the site, which had to remain in use during the construction, the self-compacting concrete is seamless and smooth, in direct contrast to the uneven, rough brick surface of the original construction. Echoing the flowing nature of the concrete, the space below the vaults flows effortlessly through the basement, belying the multiple different floor levels that previously existed. The new stair down to the basement is equally a distinctive piece of engineering, one which sits somewhere between tradition and invention. Structured from cantilevered stone, it has a timber handrail that is softly carved and set into the stone with regular steel pins. Both of these interventions are beautifully conceived in their own right, but together they are instrumental in meeting the client’s brief to open up the building. However, some of the more subtle interventions have in fact had the biggest impact. Notable among these are the careful re-levelling of floors (including externally at the main entrance) to make the gallery accessible, and the insertion of new doors in the main galleries (known as the ‘Fine Rooms’) which have greatly improved the ease of the visitor flow.
Whilst the listing of the building’s fabric limited what could be achieved in terms of sustainability, the work included local fabric improvements, large-scale modernisation of services systems, and advanced monitoring to assist with energy management. These interventions have been seamlessly integrated in most parts of the building, with the intention to not detract from the built heritage. Overall, the jury thought that this was an extremely well-judged project, which lets the spirit of the historic building lead the visitor experience, but with some 21st-century creativity to solve some of its inherent complexities.
A House for Artists by Apparata Architects
Photograph by Johan Dehlin
A House for Artists provides an ambitious model for affordable and sustainable housing. Following a six-year effort by arts organisation Create London to provide affordable accommodation for creative people, the result is a flexible live/work space for 12 artists arranged across five floors. In exchange for reduced rent, they deliver free creative programmes for the neighbourhood through a street-facing glass-walled community hall and outdoor exhibition space on the ground floor.
A sense of community permeates the design. Each set of three apartments shares a communal outdoor space inhabited by plants and personal objects, and scaled for eating and working together, as well as access. Corridor-free internal arrangements, tall ceilings, and dual-aspect openings facilitating cross-ventilation give a feeling of generous space Extensive glazing to the external walkway blurs the edges between inside and out to deliver a thoughtful and assured piece of architecture.
Living rooms on one floor can be joined via double doors in the party walls to form a collective space for optional and flexible shared living opportunities, such as parties, childcare, or co-working. Apartments on each floor have balconies on either side offering a two-sided, open-air escape strategy that eliminates the need for protected internal corridors. This approach also removes the need for fixed layouts, freeing up floor plans for modification, with the largely two-bedroom configurations offering flexibility to respond to changing living patterns. Kitchens can be repositioned, and a bedroom can be added or removed to adapt to changing family circumstances.
The concrete structure is exposed throughout, offering structural clarity while being a calm and confident presence within its context. The carbon footprint was minimised using a single skin of 50% ground granulated blast-furnace slag (GGBS) concrete, whereby half the cement is substituted with a
by-product of the steel industry, and other material build-ups are lean. Exposed ceilings provide thermal mass to reduce overheating, while covered walkways reduce solar gain.
Within apartments, circles and triangles carved into the concrete provide a nod to the surrounding roof forms and details for residents to enjoy. This is a thoughtful and assured piece of architecture that has been delivered with rigour and precision. To date, feedback from residents and the local community has been extremely positive.
Source: Architecture Today