Best of British: Eight architectural treasures from RIBA awards

27 June 2018

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) have announced their list of the UK's best new buildings. Presented since 1966, the National Awards highlight the finest contemporary design and construction trends, and the shortlist for the prestigious Stirling Prize will be drawn from the 49 winners later this year. NATALIE BUSHE takes a look at some of the winning designs.

The Royal Academy of Music: Ian Ritchie Architects Ltd

The Susie Sainsbury Theatre in the Royal Academy of Music | © Adam Scott

As RIBA’s London Building of the Year, Britain’s oldest conservatoire is a glorious appreciation of context and need. This complex build works within the confines of Grade I and Grade II listed buildings to produce spaces which both students and audiences can treasure.

The Susie Sainsbury Theatre replaces a 1970s auditorium which now holds 300 seats - 40% more than before - and with the addition of an orchestra pit, fly tower and wings, the teaching opportunities are also increased.

Wrapped in rich red leather and a warm cherry wood imbued with acoustic properties to enhance the listeners' experience, the drama of the space is heightened by the ‘exploded chandelier’ of teardrop lights which drop from the ceiling.

A new glazed lobby joins the old to the new and atop sits the Angela Burgess Recital Hall at roof level. The lime-washed oak around its walls rises to an oculus which draws light into the space and evokes the tautness of stringed instruments.

The Angela Burgess Recital Hall (left) and the Susie Sainsbury Theatre (right) | © Adam Scott
The oculus of the Angela Burgess Recital Hall | © Adam Scott

Storey's Field Community Centre and Nursery: MUMA LLP

Storey's Field Community Centre and Nursery | © Alan Williams

Storey’s Field is another RIBA multiple award-winner whose structure owes much to the attention to detail of its architects. Built in Cambridge, this is a multi-purpose site which acts as a focal point for the community, providing a nursery and community centre with a cafe.

The nursery | © Alan Williams

The nursery is built around a courtyard with constructed areas for the children to play in safety, and the building embraces playful elements of design including a constellation of portholes and windows set in primary-coloured shapes doubling as a seating area and teaching tool.

The community centre has a triple-height volume with the capacity to adapt from performance space to town hall, and can accommodate the necessary acoustic changes required for watching films or musical productions.

The neutral tones of the external brickwork and internal wood complement the local landscape, and serious consideration is given to the future needs of sustainability and biodiversity in the building’s heating and plumbing.

The triple-height community centre | © Alan Williams

Durham Cathedral Open Treasure: Purcell

Durham Cathedral Open Treasure | © Andy Marshall

How do you adapt a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Norman building of great architectural importance? This seven-year project to conserve, modify and open up aspects of the cathedral and its collection is another RIBA multi-award-winner.

The installation of lifts improves accessibility, and new lighting brightens and highlights areas of archaeological importance

The Monks' Dormitory has expanded its use as a library to include an exhibition space to house Anglo-Saxon standing stones, while the medieval Great Kitchen has been sympathetically restored to display the Treasures of St Cuthbert.

The installation of lifts improves accessibility, and new lighting brightens and highlights areas of archaeological importance. A new shop, restaurant and collections gallery also make use of quality craftsmanship to integrate new additions seamlessly, among them new lead-framed secondary glazing.

Environmental controls now protect the Library and Reading Room which contains a rare collection of books and manuscripts. This elegant melding of past and present ensures a heavenly future for the cathedral collections.

The Monks' Dormitory | © Andy Marshall
New lifts and lighting have improved the space | © Andy Marshall

St David's Hospice In Patient Unit: KKE Architects

St David's Hospice | © Ståle Eriksen

Expanding on the care given in the day facility, this 15-bed in-patient hospice was built to support a longer term need in Newport. Consultation with the client provided insightful information borne of experience and best practice which will offer clinical and operational inspiration in future centres.

The palette of colours and materials used reflects a commitment to harmony and tranquillity

In this complex facility every design element has been managed. Clinical needs have been met, but what might ordinarily be austere fixtures and fittings have been made unobtrusive, and a more domestic setting has been embraced.

The rooms have a terrace, and with the addition of a glass sliding door, beds can be taken outside if weather permits.

Attention has been given to the experience of both the patient and those who come to visit.

The palette of colours and materials used reflects a commitment to harmony and tranquillity, and every effort has been made to furnish an uplifting environment during a sensitive experience.

Areas for visitors offer a place for quiet contemplation | © Elaine Lewis
Neutral colours help create a soothing environment | © Elaine Lewis

New Tate St Ives: Jamie Fobert Architects with Evans & Shalev

New Tate St Ives | © Nick Hufton

The New Tate St Ives in Cornwall experienced a challenging birth, being much delayed and needing to meet the requirements of both a difficult site and exacting stakeholders.

The interior space © Nick Hufton

The four-storey site called for demolition throughout to create the new Clore Sky Studio and to allow for the refurbishment of the existing Foyle Studio.

The eye-catching loading bay, clad in faience (ceramic tile), can be seen from Porthmeor Beach.

The result is a structure that houses twice the amount of available space than before, and connects seamlessly with the original building, sitting between that and the adjacent housing.

Together with additional gallery space, the reconfigured site provides offices, meeting rooms, staff amenities and increased parking provision, and delivers all that despite constraints and with ingenuity and minimal impact to surroundings.

The faience-clad loading bay | © Nick Hufton

Knox Bhavan Studio: Knox Bhavan Architects

Knox Bhavan Studio's welcoming windows | © Dennis Gilbert

A running theme in this year’s RIBA awards is repurpose and reuse. In addition, Knox Bhavan Studio designed their architectural practice to invite and entice.

The working space | © Dennis Gilbert
With a working environment like this, you might be sprinting to work

The architects have made a shop window of their business by repurposing an old stationery shop in a Peckham neighbourhood and encouraging passers-by to look in and ponder what lurks inside, and sometimes they come in and ask.

The colourful facade prompts photographs, and the fake grass tempts touch. Inside, the three-storey entranceway delivers a multi-level view from the excavated basement which contains a kitchen, eating space, workshop and stationery store.

The ground floor area incorporates the studio space with 12 desks and Douglas fir storage cupboards for employee materials and equipment; and on up to a mezzanine level which hosts a small meeting room.

Once inside, a bank of exquisitely crafted desks designed for standing or sitting extends out to a south-facing window where dappled sunlight reflects off a koi carp pond. Polished steel fins shelter the desks from the harshest sunshine.

With a working environment like this, you might be sprinting to work.

Triple height entranceway at Knox Bhavan | © Dennis Gilbert

Sibson Building, University of Kent: Penoyre & Prasad

The School of Mathematics and the School of Business at the University of Kent | © Quintin Lake

The new University of Kent campus buildings for the School of Mathematics and School of Business take their inspiration from the woodland which surrounds them.

Creativity was drawn from how the canopy would be viewed from within the building and landscape architects and ecologists were consulted to maximise the context.

The colour and movement of the trees are reflected in the materials used internally and externally, where coloured anodised fins echo the hues and light of the woodland.

The zig-zag building holds 150 offices, seminar rooms, three lecture theatres and a kitchen/dining area. Built over five storeys and across a split level site, the double-height atrium acts as a hub in the flow between the two schools, pouring natural light on a communal area.

Open areas welcome collaborative working amid quality materials which are unusual for an educational setting.

The Atrium | © Quintin Lake
The site is surrounded by woodland | © Tim Crocker

The Lochside House: Haysom Ward Miller Architects

The Lochside House | © Richard Fraser

A RIAS and RIBA award-winner for Scotland, the Lochside House highlights another important trend in this year’s longlist for the Stirling Prize: sustainability. The project was designed for a private client in the West Highlands, and its three modular buildings minimise energy use with their own water supply, sewage treatment and electrical system supported by photovoltaic panels.

The designs incorporate local stone and timber as it was important for the house to blend into its surroundings

The buildings can be isolated to heat independently if required and the structures are built with highly insulated SIP (structural insulated panels) to maintain energy efficiency. The build itself was a challenging one due to the site's remoteness, not to mention the climate.

Clad in charred Scottish larch, the designs incorporate local stone and timber as it was important for the house to blend into its surroundings and integrate with the environment.

The reintroduction of native planting included Scots pine augmenting existing larch and alder trees in the area, while helping to stave off the return of rhododendron which had been cleared. The soft neutral tones of the internal design complement the natural tones of the surrounding landscape.

Neutral colours complement the surrounding landscape | © Richard Fraser
Sustainability was an important aspect of the build | © Richard Fraser

All the winners

The complete list of 49 RIBA National Winners was announced on 21 June 2018. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) also listed their award winners on 20 June 2018.

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