2013 RIBA Stirling Prize Shortlist

Thursday 18 Jul 2013

From castles to student halls, visitor centres to limestone chapels, this year's Stirling Prize Shortlist has it all...including 5 new faces

The shortlist for the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize has been announced with 5 of the 6 projects designed by architects who have never been nominated for the prize before. The Stirling Prize is presented each year by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to the architects of the building that has made the greatest contribution to British architecture in the past year.

Alison Brooks is on the shortlist for the second time, having won the 2008 Stirling Prize in partnership with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Macreanor Lavington for the Accordia homes project in Cambridge. Odds released by William Hill show that Niall McLaughlin Architects’ Bishop Edward King Chapel is currently the favourite to win with odds of 9/4.

This year’s shortlist quells the ongoing argument of the appreciation of women in architecture, with half of the shortlisted firms headed by women. Alison Brooks Architects, Heneghan Peng Architects and Grafton Architects all have women at the helm.

For the first time in years, the Stirling Prize shortlist doesn’t feature a London building; the closest is Newhall Be in Essex. The 2013 shortlist schemes are spread far and wide, with two projects in Ireland (University of Limerick Medical School and student housing and the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre) and four buildings on English soil from Astley Castle in Warwickshire to Bishop Edward King Chapel in Oxford.

Angela Brady, RIBA President, said: “The RIBA Stirling Prize is awarded to the building that has made the biggest contribution to the evolution of architecture, and nowhere is the need for fresh-thinking needed more than in housing. The UK is blighted with unimaginative, poor quality houses that people don’t want to live in but have little other choice, so I am delighted to see two amazing and highly original housing projects on this year’s shortlist.”

“All six shortlisted projects are ground-breaking in their own way - buildings that deliver more than could ever have been expected. Some of them, such as Park Hill and the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, are genuinely courageous in laying out a new visionary approach. This RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist is sending out the clear message that creative vision improves our lives.”

The 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist is as follows:

Newhall Be, Essex - Alison Brooks Architects

Newhall Be by Alison Brooks Architects tackles issues of privacy, lack of space and budgetary constraints through intelligent design tactics. Located in prime commuter territory outside London, the development of 84 housing units was guided largely by Alison Brooks Architects who convinced developers Galliford Try to reduce the volume of outside space afforded to each home in order to accommodate 6 additional houses. This ‘lost’ outside space was recovered through the integration of rooftop terraces into each of the homes.

With each courtyard house plot measuring 10.5m by 9.5m, the team faced challenges regarding privacy for the occupants. This was countered by gently angling the flank walls and balconies to ensure that the residents were not overlooked. These modest timber homes have been completed using local bricks, timber weatherboarding, slate tiles and zinc roofing, and also benefit from full-height windows, a luxury the scheme could afford after the architect’s suggestion of reducing outside space and adding 6 additional houses.

Park Hill, Sheffield - Hawkins\\Brown with Studio Egret West

Park Hill in Sheffield has enjoyed its fair share of media coverage since the colourful renovation of this Grade II listed residential block completed in 2011. Designed by Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn in the 1950, this post-war brutalist behemoth was intended to resemble an Italian hill village with ‘streets in the sky’. It was hoped that these generous open air corridors would foster a sense of community but the block suffered from poor maintenance and succumbed to widespread criminal activity.

A scheme by developers Urban Splash with Hawkins\\Brown and Studio Egret West to renovate this protected residential development was initiated to reinstate some of the original glory of the 1950s building with a modern twist. Vividly coloured panels in shades of yellow, red and orange have been installed with tones borrowed from the gradated pastel hues of the original brickwork. Numerous security measures are also in place and a metre of the ‘streets in the sky’ has been drawn back into the residential units, expanding their useable space.

University of Limerick Medical School and Student Housing, Limerick - Grafton Architects

The first of two Irish projects on this year’s shortlist is the University of Limerick Medical School and Student Housing by Grafton Architects. Praised by the RIBA for its place-making prowess, the pair of buildings are modest in size but their heavy concrete-rich forms make a bold statement on the university campus. Concrete and brickwork are countered by the warmth of timber within, creating a welcoming feel for students and tutors alike.

Tall windows flood the interior spaces with natural light with the central space of the Medical School sporting a dramatic void which soars up through study areas to bridges and windows on the upper levels. Cool and strong from the outside, these robust buildings are theatrical in nature yet retain a sense of modesty in their pared-back aesthetic.

Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre, County Antrim - Heneghan Peng architects

Designed by Heneghan Peng Architects, the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre in County Antrim is a BREEAM Excellent volume which speaks softly to its chosen site, 1km from the actual attraction. As Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway is a collection of 40,000 basalt columns created during an ancient volcanic eruption.

The 1,800 sq m Visitor Centre sports stacked basalt columns quarried from the same lava flows that formed the original Causeway and harnesses the natural energy of the location to achieve its high sustainability status. 4.5km of pipework underneath the car park takes advantage of geothermal energy for heating and 1km of earth pipes next to the Centre provide cooling.

Within the Visitor Centre is a shop, café and exhibition area, none of which takes precedence. Slices of natural light from between the defining columns gleam across the interior space, edging deeper into this impressive building.

Bishop Edward King Chapel, Oxford - Niall McLaughlin Architects

In the Oxfordshire countryside is an outstanding example of modern religious architecture. Niall McLaughlin Architects’ Bishop Edward King Chapel is encased in leafy fronds, looking out over a grand valley. The architectural design captures the wind and light of this rural location with an ashlar base and cream limestone construction, the hand-broken stone laid in a criss-cross pattern with raw ends exposed.

A ring of windows set high up in the chapel bathes the inside space in rich natural lighting, bouncing off the blonde wooden interiors. Niall McLaughlin Architects refer to the design as ‘ship-like’ with ‘an uplifting buoyancy, rising towards the light’. This countryside chapel was built to serve a theological college and a small religious order of nuns and has been said by the RIBA to ‘defy its diminutive scale to provide an uplifting spiritual space of great potency’.  

Astley Castle, Warwickshire - Witherford Watson Mann Architects

Technically a fortified manor rather than a castle, Witherford Watson Mann Architects’ shortlisted scheme in Warwickshire is the renovation of a Grade II* listed country treasure. This 12th century property has been in continuous occupation since the Saxon period and is now being rented out for short lets by the Landmark Trust.

In the historic property’s ruins, Witherford Watson Mann Architects created a contemporary residential scheme which is sensitive to the original form but offers high-end comforts to the modern user. Bathrooms and bedrooms for 8 residents are spread across the ground floor while communal spaces are located above. Highlights include a grand dining room with a rustic table in the centre of a cavernous red-brick volume. 

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