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‘FCBS’s modest scheme will make youngsters think: “I could do this”’

Observatory by FCBS
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Jay Merrick on this year’s Stephen Lawrence Prize shortlist

I admit to a long-ingrained prejudice against domestic architecture that has a contradictory modest-luxe quality. Three of the projects fall into this undoubtedly unreasonable category.

Henning Stummel Architects’ Tin House is described as a ‘serene’ courtyard enfilade; it might be serene if the geometry was less imposing and its metal cladding wasn’t orange. Coffey Architects’ Modern Side Extension is crisp Modernist with a modicum of texture, rather than the ‘subtle game of solid and void’ claimed.

Tsuruta’s House of Trace seems to have been a labour of misconstrued phenomenological love. The accentuations of historical traces in this otherwise modern extension are set out with such graphic precision, the effect verges on PoMo irony.

FCBS’s charmingly charred Observatory cabins were designed by four young architectural assistants – very much in the spirit of the Stephen Lawrence Prize’s central themes of social change and better life chances; this very modest scheme will surely make many youngsters think: ‘I could do this.’

Ash Sakula’s Exhibition Mews and Sarah Wigglesworth’s Mellor Primary School demonstrate skilled commitments to material contrasts and architectural presence. The former celebrates pragmatic conjunctions of surface and form; the latter’s show-and-tell structure and surfaces makes architecture look (quite rightly in this case) like kid’s stuff.

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