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RIBA Awards: ‘Housing no longer needs to be different to get recognised’

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Why have housing schemes taken so many RIBA National Awards and what does it mean? The profession reacts.

Housing dominated this year’s natoinal accolades, picking up a quarter of all the honours, with schemes ranging from developments by large housebuilders to smaller bespoke schemes by private investors.

Projects included Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners’ NEO Bankside, the regeneration of more than 200 homes in the Gorbals district of Glasgow by Elder and Cannon and Page\Park, and Niall McLaughlin’s scheme for Peabody.

So are we at a tipping point in the battle for better quality new homes?

Meredith Bowles, founder, Mole Architects

RIBA Awards are an indicator of sorts; they offer a reflection of what is being funded or valued, or more particularly what was being funded two or three years previously. It just might be that the country has woken up to the value of good housing- if so we have just cause to celebrate.

RIBA awards are simply given to the submitted buildings that are considered to have attained a ‘gold standard’ of design excellence, irrespective of size, budget or brief. Consistent winners across the years are cultural buildings such as museums and galleries, University buildings, and private houses- these building types and their clients are the reliable stalwarts with ambitions to make buildings of real quality. Then there are waves of buildings that reflect trends; we’ve seen Millenium projects, the results of National Lottery funding, Maggie’s Centres, the BSF schools programme and then the Olympics all producing great buildings. Along the way there are always delightful one-offs – Sutherland Hussey’s Tiree ferry shelter was shortlisted for the Stirling, and Withersford Watson Mann won with the conversion of Astley Castle.

Until recently there was little housing that made the grade

Until recently there was little housing that was considered to have made the grade. Some exceptions have been awarded - Sergison Bates, AHMM and Peter Barber producing housing considered sufficiently inventive. There’s a sense, though, that until recently really good housing wasn’t quite enough. So whilst MacCreanor Lavington or Proctor Matthews were gaining housing awards the RIBA was passing them over.

FCBS’s Accordia winning the Stirling Prize (see AJ 12.10.08) seems to have prompted a shift in perception and subsequent years have raised the profile of housing, with Alison Brook’s Newhall Be, and Hawkins\Brown’s refurbishment of Park Hill being shortlisted for the 2013 Stirling Prize. This year it seems that suddenly there are many housing schemes - from the up-market Thameside swank of RSHP to the quietly inventive affordable housing from Niall McLaughlin, and quite a range of schemes in between.

It seems that housing no longer needs to be trying to be something different to get noticed in the RIBA Awards - it just has to be damn good. 

Phillip Bintliff of Studio BAAD

Buildings need to be visited to be understood but these winning schemes are undoubtedly photogenic.  Design skills are honed to skin modern methods of construction but perhaps without the emotional vision architects once brought to the table being so evident. 

We risk creating a legacy based on numbers without the balance of a poetic appreciation of dwelling

At the weekend Tadoa Ando said of one of his early radical houses ‘[here] you live with nature and feel the Universe.’ It is said that housing isn’t an architectural problem - but do we risk creating a legacy based on numbers built and MMC without the balance of a poetic appreciation of dwelling. 

Kristian Alexander Hyde, director of Hyde + Hyde Architects

There is no doubt we are building better homes. With regards to the fact that 25 per cent of awards have gone to housing, it is worth remembering that demand is ever increasing, This is a global phenomena. Rural populations are move [into cities] at an ever-increasing and unsustainable rate. This in turn creates more housing demand, more housing submissions for awards and hence more award-winning schemes.

However, I would also like to think its a long overdue reaction by the profession in response to the proliferation of [schemes] by ‘volume house builders’ within. This, along with a growing awareness by landowners of the benefits in good design.

Jon Moen, director of Newhall Projects in the recent RIBA Housing Awards piece, spells out [the emerging] idea of shunning short-term profit and recouping losses later on, particularly as the sites themselves become more desirable. This drives profits forward and leaves a legacy of built quality.

Peter Clegg, co-founder, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

[This increase in housing award-winners] is a combination of a few different circumstances. Firstly it’s one of the benefits of the Londoncentric housing boom. Developers are putting in more money and taking a few more risks. There is more recognition of the need for quality and the planning authorities are more demanding in terms of mixed use schemes, the public realm and  social sustainability. The positive impact of the London housing design guide is providing better apartment layouts. And there is a new generation of younger architects in there which is great.

Russell Curtis, director, RCKa

These awards help point us in the right direction

The sheer number of housing schemes on the national award-winner’s list this year demonstrates that it’s still possible to innovate despite the acute pressures in the sector. I only hope that in some way this can begin to influence the wider market, the majority of which is still, by any measure, pretty terrible. Am I confident that this will lead to a sea change in the design of new housing? No. But at least these awards are helping to point us in the right direction.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Great to see a rich mix of contextual buildings with sophisticated (and sensitively chosen) external materials palletes, so well done all award winners. We now need to ensure we continue to explore, understand, and develop the quality of the internal volumes rather than accepting the usual and predictable stacked layouts. Note to editors: It a shame there hasn’t been many interior shots in the publicity so far, after all these are building to be lived in.

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