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Niall McLaughlin wins 2016 RIBA Charles Jencks Award

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Níall McLaughlin, described as a ‘great inspiration for architects today’, has won the 2016 RIBA Charles Jencks Award

The annual award is handed to an individual or practice that has made a major contribution to the theory and practice of architecture.

Níall McLaughlin, founder of Níall McLaughlin Architects, will pick up the £1,000 accolade at a public lecture chaired by Charles Jencks at the RIBA’s Portland Place HQ on 25 October.

Born in Geneva in 1962, McLaughlin set up his London-based practice in 1990. He won Young British Architect of the Year in 1998, and represented Ireland at this year’s Venice Biennale.

He is also a professor of architectural practice at the Bartlett.

Key projects include the RIBA European Award-winning Alzheimer’s Respite Centre in Dublin, and his now dismantled ARC building in Hull, which won an RIBA Award in 2006.

McLaughlin also designed housing for the Olympic Village, London, for the 2012 games. He is currently working on designs for the Natural History Museum in London and Auckland Castle in Durham.

On winning the award, McLaughlin said: ‘For me, architectural practice includes drawing, writing and building as interlinked activities.

‘It is a continual ferrying between an engagement in the natural processes required to bring something reliable and concrete into being, and the need to clear a space for the expression of doubt, possibility and a half-glimpsed ideal.’

The judging panel for the 2016 award, which was chaired by RIBA director of education David Gloster, comprised Jencks, RIBA president Jane Duncan, Lily Jencks Studio director Lily Jencks, Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic and director at the Architectural Association, Brett Steele.

Jencks said: ‘Niall McLaughlin is a great inspiration for architects today, especially the young, because of his masterful skill in drawing from all traditions – Classicism, Modernism, Postmodernism.

‘All the “isms” are under his belt, not on his back, and he extends them all through the commitment to architecture as an art and professional practice.’

Previous winners of the award include Herzog & de Meuron, Benedetta Tagliabue, Rem Koolhaas, Stephen Holl and Zaha Hadid.

Charles Jencks’ citation

Niall McLaughlin gives the profession of architecture a good name. Staying within the confines of a tradition – broadly put – between classicism and modernism, he is nonetheless not worried about changing both by hybridising them, nor frightened of being called Postmodern. In the time honoured manner of Mozart, he takes well known themes and tropes – the classical repertoire of the five platonic solids and their cognate modes (ellipse, parabola, pointed arch and so on) – and plays new games with them.

This free style Classicism of vigour and light is the ‘Old Game’ as defined by Lutyens, but it is orchestrated very lightly without being etiolated. His structural logic carried out with their repetitive geometries creates a new kind of Optical Architecture. The Bishop Edward King Chapel has its primitive strength, delicacy and content – virtues not usually found together – and ones reminiscent of James Stirling.

His Alzheimer’s Centre in Dublin is one of the most subtle and appropriate designs for a sensitive building task I know. It stems from long careful research on the affliction, and was reinterpreted for this year’s Venice Biennale in his installation ‘Losing Myself’. McLaughlin’s planning and city design are equally based in particular and local research.

Materiality, geometry, light, metaphor, abstractions, ornament and elegance are the obvious qualities. Quotations and iconic expression are sometimes prominent, and unembarrassed, unlike much other apologetic work today. Direct and bold, McLaughlin will even use Neo-Greco horses as mass-produced panels for Olympic Housing, and not be accused of pastiche. Obviously he has a strong enough belief in eclectic practice to overcome the usual taboos that straitjacket architects.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • chris Dyson

    This is well deserved and good news, congratulations to the team involved in the portfolio of projects Niall McLaughlin does indeed give the profession of architecture a good name!

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