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Outrage as FAT’s House for Essex denied RIBA East Award


The architecture profession has expressed shock after FAT’s final project – the House for Essex – failed to receive an RIBA East Award

The project controversially missed out on an RIBA East Award last week despite many believing the much-publicised holiday home, designed as ’a love letter to an Essex woman’, would win a regional accolade.

Drawn up in collaboration with Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry, the ceramic tile-clad house was described in an AJ building study as ‘a homage to architectural history’.

Commenters on social media said the decision by the RIBA East jury was ‘incredulous’, ‘poor’ and ‘utterly tragic’.

Property developer Martyn Evans said on Facebook: ‘Apparently this beautiful building was not good enough for a RIBA Regional Award this year. Which means it’s not eligible for a national award. Which means it can’t be considered for the Stirling Prize.

’Which I think it deserves. I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting it twice. Both times I met many people who stopped by to visit and look at it, all of whom were transfixed by it. Even if you worry about it being a private house for privileged visitors, it stands next to a public footpath and just to look at it from the path is to feel overjoyed by its very existence.

He added: ’I was a judge for the RIBA regional awards for south London this year. We worked so hard to be fair in who we gave awards to. We debated hard. I would be so interested to hear from the judges what argument they could possibly have made to deny this building an award. It’s shocking.’

‘This is crazy,’ commented Bristol Architecture Centre’s Rob Gregory on social media. ‘It’s clearly a serious piece of architecture.’

Invisible Studio’s Piers Taylor added: ‘It’s extraordinary that it didn’t get an award. It’s mostly to do with an inherent conservatism of the RIBA awards panel and their fear of projects that don’t conform to type.’

Responding to the comments, the project’s architect Charles Holland said: ’It’s obviously disappointing for everyone involved in the project. It’s no disrespect to any of the winners - who have designed some exceptional buildings - to say that the jury could have embraced a wider diversity of approach.

How many new buildings have a scale snow globe model of them for sale in the village shop?

’There are other notable schemes that didn’t win anything including Adam Kahn’s Penthorpe Playbarn which looks beautiful and has some lovely, decorative detailing, as well as Caruso St John’s Heong Gallery in Cambridge. I can only conclude that there is some resistance to practices interested in exploring ideas outside the mainstream.

’The sad irony is that House For Essex is a heartfelt homage to the region – both Grayson and I are from Essex. It was built by an exceptional local contractor, employed some amazing local craftsmen and involved a level of community engagement (and support) that very few projects manage. How many new buildings do you know that have a scale snow globe model of them for sale in the village shop?’

When asked for a response as to why the scheme did not receive an award, the RIBA said it did not give feedback to the press on individual buildings and that any feedback given to the architect was between them and the regional jury.

The decision means the project will not go on to be considered for the Stirling Prize or the House of the Year award.

Previous schemes for the House for Essex’s client Living Architecture – the Balancing Barn by MVRDV and Mole Architects and the Dune House by Jarmund Vigsnaes Architects and Mole Architects – were shortlisted for the Manser Medal in 2011 and 2012.



Readers' comments (7)

  • In an age when so much building is dumbed down D&B, this building deserves an award just for the sheer quality of its execution, and the level of craftsmanship involved, even if the faint-hearted neo-modernist jurors who looked at it couldn't summon enough of the smelling salts to give it an award for its exceptional styling. Alan Power

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  • Whilst the project presents an interesting allegory, a departure from the more usual architectural response for a house should not mean its worthy of a design award! The project certainly looks curious, edible, self indulging as a decorated cake.

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  • Awards aren't rationed are they? Having decided to submit it, the Jury should have recognised its' unique qualities and given it the chance to go on to greater things. It isn't short of ideas and apparently well built. What excluded it if it wasn't prejudice?

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  • Chris Roche

    This beggars belief and is another own goal for RIBA. Surely the intention of the awards is to recognise good patronage and good design with a view to encouraging others to invest in same. Having myself been a judge on RIBA London Awards I was shocked by how mean spirited some judges were towards exemplary architects and projects. I happen not to like this building, which is a question of taste, however I do recognise it makes an important contribution to the culture of architecture and deserves an award. Perhaps it is fitting given FAT's original critique of the SAD state of Modern Architecture.

    Chris Roche / Founder 11.04
    X-RIBA Council

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  • The first of Grayson Perry's four Reith Lectures in 2013 - 'Democracy Has Bad Taste' (available on BBC iPlayer and as a transcript) should be prescribed listening / reading for all architects, as should the other three of his 'Playing to the Gallery' series - 'Beating the Bounds', 'Nice Rebellion, Welcome In!' and 'I Found Myself in the Art World'.
    If the jurors weren't aware of these they've missed out on their education.

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  • As a region chair judge and past RIBA regional winner I feel it's not enough just to be wacky.

    Judges carefully and with great seriousness analysis and score each building submission using a carefully selected set of architectural criteria. A good piece of architecture should be fit for purpose, have a resolved plan, relate to and enhance its context, be sustainable, be well detailed, and lift ones spirit etc .

    Perry stated at a very entertaining lecture in London "architects are stuffy and boring". His Essex house is far from that but does this make it great Architecture ?

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    This building is definitely of its time, it has no need of a mainstream award, and probably would be embarrassed in itself, were it to be awarded one.
    It has the self-confident, self-reverential, shallow disdain for its purpose, and revels in its illogicality in design ... of 'times we live in.
    It may be an interesting object-d'art, but at what point does it become a house?

    Now, Turner Prize .........

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