“Some people are confused by decisions”

“Some people are confused by decisions”

Simon Henley

The 26 winning projects in the RIBA National Awards 2024 are simply exceptional. Diverse in scale, typology and approach, all represent the culmination of thousands of hours of work, thoughtful design and commendable ambition.

Having reached the penultimate hurdle before the Stirling Prize shortlist – which will be announced on 31 July – these projects shed light on the huge variety of work that architects manage, from masterplans to private homes, from new and redesigned buildings to conservation projects.

From 195 regional projects from across the UK that were shortlisted in January and 111 regional winners were announced in May, the 26 National Award winners represent the very best in British architecture.

Awards always generate strong opinions and I am pleased that people continue to take an interest in how and why decisions are made. When I took over as Chair of the RIBA Awards Group in January, I spoke about how the Awards generate debate across the country and the value they bring.

Awards always generate strong opinions

The RIBA Awards – and the dialogue that surrounds them – have the power to communicate the work of our profession to a wider audience and justify the work we do, the investment we make in architects and architecture. Well-designed buildings bring extraordinary benefits, not only to their users, but also to their neighbours and communities, inspiring pride.

The awards are also evidence of our ability to restore and adapt older structures, with almost 40 per cent of winning projects involving reuse or modernisation. These include Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects’ refurbishment of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, one of the world’s first iron-framed buildings and the ‘grandfather of the skyscraper’; the same practice’s work on Bath Abbey in the city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Purcell and Níall McLaughlin Architects’ integration of old and new structures and the castle itself with the city of Auckland Castle; Reiach and Hall’s refurbishment of the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh; and Mikhail Riches’ next stage adaptation of the brutalist Park Hill estate in Sheffield.

Awards and the dialogue that accompanies them are an argument for the work we do

In each case, the architects and client have not only saved a building for preservation, they have created a project of national significance for its conservation, ingenuity and forward-thinking approach to reuse and adaptation. And while it is not a building, Allies and Morrison and Porphyrios Associates’ masterplan for King’s Cross also integrates an incredible heritage site into this new urban district.

This year we were particularly pleased to see so many projects with an extraordinary community purpose, including the beautifully restored Wraxall Yard dairy farm by Clementine Blakemore Architects, which now offers holiday accommodation, and the Alfreton Park Community Special School by Curl La Tourelle Head, which caters for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

Similarly, affordable housing is a priority, with examples including the cleverly planned and beautifully decorated council terraces on Hackney’s Chowdhury Walk by Al-Jawad Pike; Page/Park’s North Gate Social Housing development, designed as a ‘micro tower’ of apartments for older residents; and PTE’s Beechwood Village, where potential buyers could choose a plot and create their own unique home.

Of course, the industry’s response to the climate crisis is now key, and two projects stand out in this regard: Boehm Lynas’ Arbour and GS8 in Walthamstow, where a young team designed and built 10 homes on a tight brownfield site, with zero waste; and Waugh Thistleton’s timber-framed Black & White Building.

This year, too, there are many wonderful examples of carefully crafted architecture that draws on tradition and strives for continuity. Buildings such as James Gorst Architects’ New Temple Complex, Niall McLaughlin Architects’ WongAvery Gallery and Feilden Fowles’ Homerton College Dining Hall are skillfully composed in plan, section and elevation.

My first visit to the RIBA Awards judging panel was 21 years ago and since then I have had the privilege of travelling around the UK to see how decisions are made at every level.

Source:Jack Hobhouse

Gainsborough’s House Museum in Sudbury, designed by ZMMA, has been named RIBA Eastern Building of the Year 2024 – but did not win a national award

Each decision is the culmination of hundreds of hours of visits and deliberations by experts in their fields. They must balance inclusivity, sustainability and diversity with a generosity of spirit that embraces beauty and culture, history and context – so many volunteers, so many hours and so much enthusiasm go into agreeing on the projects.

But despite a rigorous process designed to ensure everyone who enters has a fair and equal chance of winning, I know some people are confused by the final decisions. For example, not all projects that are considered for regional Building of the Year win nationally. Why? Because we look at the UK as a whole, comparing and contrasting the quality of design and local impact of schemes against a national standard of excellence.

Regional awards are extremely important because they showcase the best solutions on a local scale, but national awards take a different picture.

And the next stage is even harder – choosing just six buildings to be judged by the Stirling Prize jury. Our shortlist will be announced at the end of July, and the winning Stirling Prize practice will be announced on 16 October. Fortunately, that’s not my decision.

Simon Henley is Chair of the RIBA Awards Group and Director of the London-based architectural practice Henley Halebrown

Source: Jim Stephenson 2022

RIBA National Award Winner 2024: Homerton College by Feilden Fowles.