On 18 July 2019, six projects were shortlisted for the coveted 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize: awarded to the UK’s best new building.
The RIBA Stirling Prize, sponsored by Almacantar, is judged against a range of criteria including design vision; innovation and originality; capacity to stimulate, engage and delight occupants and visitors; accessibility and sustainability; how fit the building is for its purpose and the level of client satisfaction.
The RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist epitomises the enviable global reputation of UK architecture. These six buildings could hardly be more diverse in typology and scale – from a rustic stable block-turned-theatre to a vast national railway station. But what they have in common – ground-breaking innovation, extraordinary creativity and the highest quality materials and detailing – sets them apart, rightfully earning them a chance to win the highest accolade in architecture.
In 2018 the RIBA Stirling Prize was awarded to Bloomberg, designed by Foster + Partners. RIBA will be announcing this year’s winner in a ceremony on 8 October.
Below, we take a closer look at the shortlist for the 2019 award:
Cork House / Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton
Designed with immense attention to detail, Cork House is a structure of great ingenuity. Sited within the area of a Grade II Listed mill house dating back to the early nineteenth century, the Cork House beautifully reflects and respects the natural surroundings in form and construction. The ‘whole-life approach’ to sustainability truly sets this project apart. Designed, tested and developed in partnership with The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL, they have delivered a project that is the first of its kind.
An entirely cork construction, with solid structural cork walls and roof, the building has exceptionally low whole life carbon. The biogenic construction of prefabricated cork blocks and engineered timber is carbon negative at completion and has remarkably low whole life carbon. All the components can be reused or recycled, and the expanded cork blocks have been made using by-product and waste from cork forestry and the cork stopper industry. Internally, the biophilic elements such as the exposed cork and oak flooring captures the light and creates a wonderfully tranquil sensory experience. In summer the skylights open to bring a sense of lightness to the space and in winter the snug interiors emanate a sense of warmth and protection. As sustainability becomes integral to all construction, this development pushes us further to look beyond the requirements and aspire to really integrate ourselves with nature.
The inventiveness lies within the structure’s ease of assembly. The whole house is ‘designed for disassembly’ and can be constructed by hand. An incredible feat by the architects to achieve such a delicately intriguing home that sits humbly amongst its surroundings, is sustainably sound and can be easily assembled. As the first of its type, it is truly exciting to think what this project could inspire within the architectural world. MPH Architects and the collaborative team, which includes not only The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL but also The University of Bath, Amorim UK, Ty-Mawr the BRE and consultants Arup and BRE, have really done something special with this project. The detailing is very clever, and the structure draws upon ancient inspiration, harking back to a time when humans and nature were more intertwined.
Form, function and footprint are all equally considered and respected. This is a truly well thought through, carefully researched project that has created a home that inspires those that are lucky enough to visit. A noble, momentous model to aspire to.
Goldsmith Street / Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley
Finding Goldsmith Street takes you through a very typical English Provincial City residential neighbourhood. Goldsmith street is an exception though. It captures the spirit of a very special place. A coherent visual field that communicated the best of enlightened modern domestic European architecture from the outset. The more one absorbs this project, the more this feeling is reinforced.
The architects won this scheme of just over a hundred dwellings a dozen years ago, and have worked and re-worked it, each time keeping their aim of creating a highly sustainable community in mind. The eventual layout is a simple series of seven terrace blocks arranged in four lines. An immediate connection with a very recognisable urban layout, the architects were able to convince the planners to accept a narrow 14m between blocks – effectively the street width – through a careful design of windows to minimise overlooking, and a very thoughtful asymmetric roof profile that allows good sunlight and daylight into the streets. The result is a very dense development, but one that is in no way oppressive.
Although the layout has a traceable link with the English housing tradition, the rest of the project is very modern in its conception. Black glazed pantiles, mitred as they go from a roof covering to a wall covering, perforated metal brise soleil, and the new detailing associated with energy conscious design are wholly contemporary. The brick is also contemporary, with characteristic intentional white efflorescence colouration, set in a mews or small terrace layout. To be certified Passivhaus, the windows had to be smaller than the proportion in a Georgian or Victorian terrace, so the architects have used a set-back panel around the windows to give an enlarged feel, and panels of textured brick have been introduced into the main elevations, again to balance the feel of the fenestration along the terrace.
Provision for parking has been pushed to the perimeter, so the streets feel safe and ‘owned’ by pedestrians rather than cars. Bin stores have been thoughtfully used in the front gardens to create buffer zones between the public footpath and the front doors, giving a humane gradation of public to private territory. The ‘back street’ has gardens and a pathway down the centre that has been fully landscaped, although the path takes a wavy course that stops the sense of a ‘back alley’ and gives a welcome curving foil to an otherwise rectilinear scheme.
Tireless work by the architects has kept the standard of workmanship up to a very high level. Social tenants get impressively high specification interiors – in both the end-of-terrace flats and the central terrace houses. Passivhaus detailing has nicely accommodated the mechanical ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) units in the interiors, and the services intakes have been intelligently controlled. Each dwelling has a range of providers’ services pre-wired, so that they can be connected on demand, without the need for a service providers’ to come in later and drill through vital vapour barrier lines.
Bringing the reduced energy consumption associated with Passivhaus to mass housing is a great achievement, and one that has taken a large amount of effort and care by the architects. This is an exemplary project.
London Bridge Station / Grimshaw
This nationally significant infrastructure project delivers connectivity across a significant area of England, from the Norfolk coast to the South coast. It can comfortably accommodate current and future passenger numbers, and significantly improves the experience of those who use it daily.
Bold, radical interventions have been delivered efficiently, with the station remaining operational throughout the construction period.
The new concourse is truly impressive. The removal of the old brick arches has created a significantly sized space to accommodate passengers. The railway lines now bridge this space and are a significant feat in engineering. Between these, dual escalators and step-free circulation take passengers seamlessly to the platforms above, with natural light from the roofs illuminating the concourse below. The sheer scale and size of this area makes it feel comfortable, even during busy periods. The concourse impressively recycles bricks from demolished arches, locating them in new walls within the station.
The new Western Arcade, which connects the station to the Underground, demonstrates the sensitive reuse of the original Victorian railway arches. Modern interventions and clutter have been kept to a minimum, and new arches have been created in concrete to emphasise the difference between old and new.
This skillful design was implemented in phases, allowing the project to be delivered on time and budget while minimising disruption to the passengers using the station during construction.
The station’s relationship to the surrounding area has been significantly improved, with the barrier it once created between north and south Bermondsey now addressed. The flow of passengers from the platforms to the station has been carefully considered so that the station does not feel overcrowded, even during rush hour. Permeability and accessibility to the station have been significantly improved through the introduction of large, welcoming new entrances from Tooley Street and St Thomas Street. This also enhances connectivity from the south to the north.
Pavements have been widened to comfortably accommodate pedestrians and outside seating. The undercroft and colonnades have been sensitively restored and used for retail, cafés and bars, animating a once rundown and deserted area. The brave move of removing an existing building to create an arrival square from More London has been hugely successful.
Dark, confined passenger spaces have been transformed into voluminous light-filled spaces that are a joy to use. The station’s transformation acts as a catalyst for the redevelopment of the surrounding area and sets the standard very high for future station redevelopment.
Nevill Holt Opera / Witherford Watson Mann Architects
Nevill Holt Opera Building is, at first interaction, a non-building, wholly hidden within the stable yard of the hall’s stable block.
Following on from a forensic analysis of the history of the site the architects have approached the brief by firstly focusing on the idea of a room in stone which then has a cut in the ground that forms the stalls and orchestra pit. A series of further moves insert the seating, roof and rooflight. This creates a clear hierarchy to what is a quiet architecture, a crafted box that allows the performer to be centre stage and the proportions and inner wall of the stable block to be respected.
There is no formal foyer to this opera, the walled gardens perform this role and from the first threshold there are no details here that are ill considered. Full height hand crafted doors bring you straight into the auditorium. The perimeter is exquisite board marked concrete, held away from the stable block walls by a compacted hoggin edge. In this same perimeter zone elegant bronze coloured cruciform columns support the dress circle above.
The stage, the heart of the space, has an intimate feel, as if the performer is in the audience with a generous rooflight located above.
A darker stained wood is used to form rotating proscenium screens, the dress circle balustrade, the seating and the floor. This is a neat, visually recessive palette that allows the walls of the existing stables to be clearly, but quietly, reinforced.
The dress circle is reached via an elegantly detailed stair that has been inserted into the existing stable block and once you reach the dress circle, which is also held away from the stable walls, the palette is again very controlled and all seats have great views to the stage. There are some very nice touches here: inflecting the handrail to acknowledge an existing stable window and the scalloping of the rear of the dress circle to acknowledge the front door being two of many.
The new roof and upper walls of the auditorium are all from a lightly sand blasted larch, picking up the more honey coloured hues of the local Clipsham stone. The rhythm of the cladding pattern is informed by the rhythm of the existing stable joists behind. This cladding is also part of a larger acoustic tuning exercise to support young opera singers’ voices. The cladding interface with the existing stone walls has been carefully considered. A new Colleyweston slate ’dry pack’ zone that supports a new ironstone parapet, where the old eaves line previously existed, is a good example of how the architect’s approach to conservation is very measured; sometimes playing up the differences and sometimes recognising a much quieter approach is needed.
This is a project that looks effortless, yet we all know that this belies the truth. The modesty, craftsmanship, care and attention that have been applied here are exceptional. Country houses continually evolve, being added to over time; the opera building is an exceptional 21st Century addition to Nevill Holt Hall.
The Macallan Distillery and Visitor Experience / Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
The rolling roofscape of this building echoes the form of the surrounding hills and serves to successfully conceal an exceptionally well resolved and ingenious fusion of architecture, whisky technology and impactful interior settings displaying the heritage of the Macallan brand.
A processional landscaped walkway symbolically and physically connects the 18th century laird’s house at the heart of the estate with the new visitor centre. The internal journey continues under a warmly lit majestic double curvature timber gridshell roof. The combination of atmospheric lighting with the architectural form and the intriguing arrangement of stills and exhibits creates a sense of drama throughout this hugely impressive building. Views through the extensive fully glazed section of the main elevation framed between the floor and the curving eaves provide a constant link between the new building and the enchanting scenery of the Spey river, the source of water that brought the distillery to the site.
The Weston / Feilden Fowles Architects
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park sits in the grounds of Bretton Hall, an 18th century country park estate. Since its opening in 1977 the Sculpture Park has developed a series of indoor exhibition spaces that complement the sculpture arranged across the landscape.
The Weston is the latest addition, providing a visitor centre and gallery. It sits on the eastern boundary of the park, closest to the arrival route for many visitors from the nearby M1.
Establishing a close relationship between the buildings and the landscape is the key driver for the client in all its buildings. At The Weston, the architect has fully embraced this aspiration. The building is truly of its landscape.
The building sits on the site of a former millstone grit quarry. On approach, a monolithic, 50m long wall, appears semi buried in the landscape, punctuated only by a single opening which forms the entrance. This concrete wall uses a variety of exposed local aggregates to produces a strata-like effect. It is almost as though the building has been hewn from the ground. This wall acts as a buffer, shielding the inside from constant nearby road noise. The effect of this is immediately noticeable on entering the calm internal space. The wall itself returns around the northern end of the building to shelter and protect the gallery space. To the west the building becomes a glazed timber-framed pavilion giving panoramic views across the park.
The design vision has been carried through with great consistency to the extent that the building’s form feels almost inevitable.
The new building has significantly improved its immediate environment, providing a sunny west-facing terrace and giving visitors an opportunity to look across the park from its panoramic glazed wall that gently curves to embrace the landscape. The timber structure creates a warm, almost domestic, feel to the interior of the café and visitor centre. Services installations are discreetly hidden from view and well-integrated into the building structure.
There is a strong relationship between the client and the architect, with a well-articulated common purpose. The project was won through a competitive process and the client was brave enough to appoint a relatively young practice. They have been rewarded with a building that is inventive and fully realises their aspirations. The traditional procurement route has benefited the project in allowing experimentation to achieve the precise finishes required for the innovative forms of construction. The beautifully made board-marked shuttering to the roof monitors in the gallery are sculptures in their own right.
The project includes sustainable features including green roofs and an unusual passive humidity buffer. The client has been prepared to reduce the environmental exacting standards required in gallery space to accept this more sustainable approach. This is a project that has achieved an excellent outcome through the close collaboration between the client and the architect.