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RSHP architect wins first ever MJ Long Prize at 2020 W Awards

Tracy Meller of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners has won the inaugural MJ Long Prize for excellence in practice for her role on the London School of Economics’ Centre Building

Meller was handed the honour at the W Awards in London earlier today (6 March). The prize recognises a body of work by a UK-based female architect with an emphasis on a project completed within the past 18 months.

She was chosen from a four-strong shortlist which also comprised: Emma Fairhurst of Collective Architecture, who had been put forward for the Calton Hill City Observatory project in Edinburgh; Alice Hamlin of Mole Architects, for Marmalade Lane, Cambridge; and Nicola Rutt of Hawkins\Brown, for Here East, London. 

Meller was nominated for her work as project lead on RSHP’s £78 million Centre Building for the LSE. Earlier this year she told the AJ that the most rewarding aspect of working on the flagship education scheme had been the ‘positive feedback from students and teaching staff’.

The judges said: ‘Meller is real leader, working collaboratively while still pulling the whole thing together. It’s a very difficult thing to do in a corporate culture, going against a general tendency of having a solo leading voice.’

MJ Long’s daughter Sal Wilson spoke saying she was unsure about agreeing to name the award after her mother because ‘Mum did not want to discuss the W word at all … She may not have wanted to shout about being a woman architect but by doing it she was a living breathing example, especially early in her career when she was one of very few doing it’. 

The event also saw the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture go to Francesca Torzo, founder of Francesca Torzo Architetto, based in Genoa, Italy, while Mariam Kamara, founder of Atelier Masōmī, based in Niamey, Niger, was highly commended. They were chosen from a shortlist also comprising Simona Della Rocca, co-founder of BDR bureau, based in Turin, Italy and Stefanie Rhodes, co-founder of Gatti Routh Rhodes, based in London, UK. 

The award is named in memory of the late Moira Gemmill, director of design at the V&A and latterly director of capital programmes at the Royal Collection Trust, and comes with a £10,000 prize.

Bethnal Green Missio 3147 Jack Hobhouse PRESSIMAGE 1

Gatti Routh Rhodes’ Bethnal Green Mission

Source: Jack Hobhouse

Gatti Routh Rhodes’ Bethnal Green Mission Church in London – co-founder Stephanie Rhodes was shortlisted for the Moira Gemmil Prize for emerging architecture

Chaired by AJ editor Emily Booth and AR editor Manon Mollard, the judges of the 2020 MJ Long Prize for excellence in practice and the Moira Gemmill Prize for emerging architecture were:

  • Biba Dow, Director, Dow Jones Architects
  • Eva Jiřičná, Partner, AI-DESIGN
  • Meneesha Kellay, Curator, V&A Museum
  • Stephanie Macdonald, Director, 6a Architects
  • Takero Shimazaki, Director, Takero Shimazaki Architects
  • Catherine Slessor, Architectural editor, writer and critic
  • Amin Taha, Director, Groupwork
  • Olly Wainwright, Architecture and design critic, The Guardian
  • Sal Wilson, Environmental designer, Atelier Ten

Prior to the W Lunch, Pakistan’s first female architect, Yasmeen Lari, was awarded the Jane Drew Prize, which recognises an architectural designer who, through their work and commitment to design excellence, has raised the profile of women in architecture. ‘I am touched and humbled to be included among the galaxy of architects who have received this prize’, said Lari.

Architectural historian and theorist Beatriz Colomina was chosen as the recipient of the 2020 Ada Louise Huxtable Prize for Contribution to Architecture, which recognises individuals working in the wider architectural industry who have made a significant contribution to architecture and the built environment. Colomina said ‘Ada Louise Huxtable was a real force in architecture and I am very honoured to receive this award.’

Both Lari and Colomina gave keynote speeches during the awards lunch at Battersea Arts Centre.

Q&A with MJ Long Prize winner Tracy Meller

What has been your role in the design and delivery of the LSE’s Centre Building?

I’ve been extensively involved in the project throughout, leading the competition team in 2013 working alongside Ivan Harbour and remaining as project lead until its completion in 2019. I worked very closely with project architect Lorna Edwards, who took a more active day-to-day role. I got under the skin of the LSE’s brief and project aspirations, evolving the design proposals together and assisting them through many rounds of consultation with stakeholder groups and end-users. Once we had permission, I worked with the LSE project managers to select a main contractor and agree the contract documents. Finally, in the latter years of the project, I worked closely with the Mace team and their delivery architect (B&R) to ensure the design was delivered as procured.  

What has been the most challenging aspect?

The project was procured during challenging economic times, initially in a very inflated market. Then in the run up to the 2016 Brexit vote as the pound fell, millions were added to the package costs overnight. These factors required many rounds of robust value engineering, which we did collaboratively with LSE and Mace to ensure the project remained viable without losing its vision and quality. 

What has been the most rewarding aspect?

Seeing the building in use and receiving such positive feedback from students and teaching staff. That has been fantastic. The creation of the new public square and the opening up of the cross-campus routes has had a transformative effect on the wider area, improving wayfinding and giving LSE a real presence in its largely hidden quarter of Holborn. The prototype LSE Style lecture theatre we designed to promote more active teaching and learning styles has been embraced by the teaching staff, facilitating more dynamic and interactive teaching. The Department of Government has even used the opposing raked seats to recreate recent activity in the House of Commons, allowing students to ‘cross the floor’ and defect to other parties as part of a political debate. 

What does it mean to be named as a finalist for this award?

Fantastic. I feel very proud of the 20 years I’ve spent at RSHP. A project of this complexity requires a mammoth sustained effort by a huge number of people – not just at RSHP but the wider team, which includes the client, consultants, contractor and subcontractors all working together. We were lucky to have an extraordinary team who came together to keep the project moving forward despite many challenges. This recognition of my role as a cog in that great machine is a huge honour.   

What advice would you give women entering the profession today?

Choose your life partner wisely. Architecture is a great vocation … but you need to be passionate. It takes sustained effort and commitment to carve out a successful career, requiring the support and accommodation of those closest to you.

Read about all of the MJ Long Prize shortlist in their own words.

Find out more about the W Awards here.