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RIBA names winners of post-pandemic ideas contest

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The RIBA has revealed the three winning teams in its international contest seeking ‘big ideas for our post-pandemic world’

The three joint winners were chosen from 147 entries and include: a proposal to rehouse homeless people within redundant office blocks by Benjamin Holland, Olivia Dolan, and Katie Williams; a greening initiative for busy traffic corridors by People Matter; and a vision to reintroduce agriculture to London by Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker. 

The Rethink: 2025 competition invited RIBA members and students to imagine what life in our new, post-pandemic world could look like by 2025. Participants were asked to think about how the global Covid-19 outbreak will modify the way people interact with spaces and each other and whether design could mitigate the worst effects. Each winner will receive a £2,667 prize.

The call for concepts set out to identify a range of ambitious solutions covering the future of: healthcare spaces, remote learning, high-density living, public transport, high streets vs online shopping, international travel and the use of technology to monitor and control populations.

RIBA president Alan Jones said: ‘It’s clear that many of the impacts of Covid-19 will be long-lasting and will continue to shape how we live for years to come. These winning proposals demonstrate the crucial role that architects can and must have in delivering places and spaces for communities of the future.

‘Last year the RIBA declared a climate emergency, recognising the important role that the built environment will play in meeting the government’s target of net zero carbon by 2050 – I’m delighted to see that sustainability and community are at the very core of all three of the winning proposals. My congratulations to them all.’

Ed Clark, associate director at Arup said: ‘Evaluating the entries was an eye-opening process to appreciate the breadth and scale of the issues. We wanted to reflect that those issues are equally important at different scales and so awarded three equal first places.’

The RIBA competition sought both detailed and wide-ranging concepts for the post-pandemic world. Submissions were also expected to address wider issues such as climate change and wellbeing.

Judges included Francine Houben, creative director and founding partner at Mecanoo; Matt Jones, principal designer at Google AI; Sarah Castle, director and co-founder of IF_DO; Ed Clarke, director of Structural Engineering at Arup; and London mayoral design advocate Joanne Averley.

Rethink: 2025 winners

  • Get Everyone In, Benjamin Holland, Olivia Dolan, Katie Williams

Winner: 'Get Everyone In' by Benjamin Holland, Olivia Dolan, Katie Williams

Winner: ‘Get Everyone In’ by Benjamin Holland, Olivia Dolan, Katie Williams

Winner: ‘Get Everyone In’ by Benjamin Holland, Olivia Dolan, Katie Williams

This proposal draws on two issues which have been amplified by the pandemic – the need to house people who are homeless and the prediction that many office spaces will become permanently redundant. Bringing these issues together, it suggests that empty office spaces can be re-used and repurposed to house homeless people.

The proposed reworking of an office tower sees communal health facilities on ground level and brings nature into the space with sky gardens at the mid-level – as well as offering an opportunity for residents to grow their own food in vertical gardens. On the upper floor, drawings show how the deep plan office floor could be used for hostel-style bedrooms around the perimeter with communal spaces in the centre of the floor. There is also a floor left for some office workers.

  • Streets are Made for Walking, People Matter.

Winner: 'Streets are Made for Walking' by People Matter

Winner: ‘Streets are Made for Walking’ by People Matter

Winner: ‘Streets are Made for Walking’ by People Matter

This proposal uses Holloway Road, an arterial road in North London – as an example of what could be done in any city to redesign its streets to make high-quality public space for those living either side of such traffic corridors.

In light of changes to how we use streets due to the pandemic – the entry is hopeful for a permanent move towards cleaner, more physically active methods of transport. This proposal offers a two-stage programme for capitalising on these changes, and accelerating a transition towards cleaner, greener, safer and happier streets.

The first stage will be to ensure that the temporary changes to the streets are made permanent by 2025 and that by 2035 these more liveable and breathable neighbourhoods will be linked in a series of lateral rings. The idea is that the radial roads out from the centre diminish in importance as the centre itself does, and the lateral connections increase in importance. With reduced amounts of commuting into the centres of cities now envisaged, this realignment becomes feasible and desirable.

  • Greater London Agriculture, Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker

Winner: 'Greater London Agriculture' by Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker

Winner: ‘Greater London Agriculture’ by Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker

Winner: ‘Greater London Agriculture’ by Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker

This proposal seeks to transform London’s metropolitan area into an ecologically diverse, agricultural landscape, addressing the premise that industrialised food production has made us vulnerable to diseases transmitted from animals to humans.

The project proposes to introduce agroecology (sustainable farming that works with nature) to London by embedding growing spaces within and around the city, introducing funding for agroecological education that will allow trailblazing farmers to learn the skills necessary to flourish and pass on knowledge.

Initially a patchwork of productive landscapes, over time these growing spaces will become connected by bio-diverse corridors, with wildflowers for pollinators and edible plants for foraging. Along the Thames, a diverse range of activities will become part of this edible landscape, from the wetlands of Rainham Marshes for cattle grazing, orchards producing cider to experimental seaweed farms floating in the estuary. Circular economy entrepreneurs will work to improve logistics, closely matching food volume to demand, creating valuable innovative bioeconomy products that embrace interesting seasonal food. Organic by-products will return to the soil and the virtuous cycle will continue.

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