For the first time in 14 years the annual Pub Design Awards have appointed a winner in the New Build category. The Wharf, Walsall, is situated next to Caruso St John's acclaimed Walsall Art Gallery - itself due for completion this summer. Built for the Highgate and Walsall Brewing Company, it is the work of London-based practice Sergison Bates, in association with Caruso St John which is the area's masterplanner.
Situated in an area of post-industrial neglect, the black, low-profile, water's-edge pub is welcomed as modest without apologising for its modernity. A large pitched roof with tiled gable ends conceals a sharp contemporary interior devoid of the usual over-bright brassware and determination to be Irish, rustic, Victorian, or all three, as seems usually to blight new pub design.
The annual pub design awards are made by camra (the Campaign for Real Ale) and English Heritage, whose judges praised the Wharf for its 'no- nonsense simplicity: no fake mouldings, no elaborate finishes, no macho high-tech gesturing'.
Claiming it 'owes more to Bergen than the Black Country', the pub is open from 08.00 until 02.00. Income will go towards helping run the art gallery's facilities.
The awards hold further good news for architects, with the 1950s-inspired 'Browns', in Coventry's Earl Street, receiving a 'highly commended' award from the panel. Designed by Baynes & Company of Yelvertoft for the licensee, the pub does a good daytime trade as a cafe-cum student refectory. However, such transgression is clearly not welcomed by the panel, with judge Stephen Parissien hoping that the 'evolution from cafe to pub will be a swift one'. Its 'anomalous status', as the judges' report puts it, clearly compromises its 'pubbiness' a little too much for camra/eh diehards to have made it a joint winner.
At Wednesday's announcement of the awards at the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar (winner of the refurbishment award) camra/eh also announced the launch of a 'Pub 2000 Concept Competition'. Clearly encouraged by such recent work as Stephenson Bell's riba award winning Quay Bar in Manchester, and the Wharf, the competition is looking for 'good, innovative and imaginative design', while still reflecting the positive attributes of the British pub. Competition details from camra, tel: 01727 867201.