RIBA Sterling Prize 2023

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has named the John Morden Centre – a retirement day centre in London by Mæ – as the winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize 2023. Presented since 1996, the prestigious award is given to the UK’s best new building. It’s judged against a range of criteria including accessibility and sustainability; design vision; innovation and originality; capacity to stimulate, engage and delight occupants and visitors; how fit the building is for its purpose and the level of client satisfaction. Previous recipients include Wilkinson Eyre Architect’s Millennium Bridge in Newcastle (2002), Foster + Partner’s 30 St Mary Axe, commonly known as “The Gherkin”, and Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI in Rome (2010).

This year, the shortlisted projects address social problems, such as rising wealth disparities and housing shortages. RIBA president Muyiwa Oki said: “These six remarkable buildings offer thoughtful, creative responses to the really complex challenges we’re facing today. Whether it’s tackling loneliness, building communities or preserving our heritage, these projects lay out bold blueprints for purposeful architecture.”

Winner – John Morden Centre, Blackheath | Mæ

The John Morden Centre provides day care for residents of Morden College, a retirement community, in Blackheath, London. The new facilities complement the existing buildings on the Grade I-listed site, including an almshouse and chapel, both attributed to Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), architect of St Paul’s Cathedral (1675-1710). Mæ’s complex is arranged as a series of red brick ‘pavilions’ containing both care and social spaces, connected by a central timber ‘cloister’. A striking, zinc-clad roof and high chimneys echo those of its 17th century neighbours. Employing principles of biophilic design – a concept that focuses on the connections between the natural and the built environment – the structure is carefully embedded within the surrounding nature. The linear path of the cloister follows the elevation of the landscape and is centred around a large cedar tree ­– the focal point of the garden. 

In terms of sustainability, the design utilises simple and effective low-carbon techniques, such as economical materials and a passive ventilation system that minimises the energy needed for running the home. Architect Ellen van Loon, Chair of the RIBA Stirling Prize Jury said: “The John Morden Centre is a place of joy and inspiration. It sensitively and seamlessly integrates medical facilities and social spaces, delivering a bold and hopeful model for the design of health and care centres for the elderly. Creating an environment that lifts the spirits and fosters community is evident at every turn and in every detail. This building provides comfort and warmth, with thoughtful features designed to prevent isolation. It illustrates how buildings can themselves be therapeutic – supporting care and instilling a sense of belonging. Great architecture orients people so they can thrive, and this building is exemplary at achieving exactly that.”

Central Somers Town Community Facilities and Housing, Camden | Adam Khan Architects

Central Somers Town Community Facilities and Housing are part of a larger masterplan commissioned by the London Borough of Camden to regenerate an extensive area, near St Pancras station in London. In the initiative, Adam Khan Architects‘s building creates a community children’s facility as well as several housing units for social rent. The ground floor is occupied by an after-school club for 4-11-year-olds that welcomes parents onto its premises. Besides this, a theatre education charity called Scene & Heard further engages 400 children. Inside the red-brick structure, functional rooms and cosy nooks bring intimacy and calm to the space. There’s a football pitch on top of the building that adheres to the challenging constraint of preserving existing open spaces. Next to the central hall, an apartment block with swooping inverted arches and large windows offers affordable housing for residents.

A House for Artists, Barking | APPARATA Architects

A House for Artists is an ambitious model for affordable and sustainable housing that provides accommodation for creative people. The site is a 5-storey apartment complex with living and working spaces for 12 artists. In exchange for reduced rent, the inhabitants deliver free programmes for the neighbourhood in a street-facing glass-walled community hall and an outdoor gallery on the ground floor. APPARATA Architects’ design establishes a sense of community through an adjustable and open plan. The corridor-free internal arrangement and tall ceilings give a feeling of generous space whilst the extensive glazing to the walkways blur the edges between the interior and exterior. The house was initiated by Create London – a social scheme creating purposeful projects for communities in collaboration with local artists, architects and creative practitioners.

Lavender Hill Courtyard Housing, Clapham | Sergison Bates Architects

Tucked away at the end of a Clapham mews, Lavender Hill Courtyard is the redevelopment of a former sheet-metal workshop. The facilities have been turned into nine apartments, arranged around a courtyard space and a timber-decked terrace on the first floor. The unassuming entrance to the dwelling opens up into the welcoming courtyard that is accessible to all units and creates a sheltered communal space and a sense of privacy amongst the busy surroundings. With a special focus on materials, Sergison Bates Architects created different characters for each apartment both internally and externally. The new façade also reflects the Victorian industrial heritage of the site. Each unit has an intuitive internal layout that allows multiple views across the block, allowing all apartments to have a relationship to the central yard. The architects reused bricks from the previously demolished structure. By opting for brick as the main material, the new building can similarly be dismantled and reused when it reaches the end of its life. 

Courtauld Connects – The Courtauld Institute of Art, London | Witherford Watson Mann Architects

The Courtauld Gallery occupies the central section of the Grade I-listed Somerset House, facing onto the Strand. Originally designed as the Royal Academy by architect William Chambers, the site has been home to the Courtauld Institute since the early 1990s. The transformation of the institution is the first part of a multi-phase project that aims to open up the institution both physically and culturally. Witherford Watson Mann’s striking new design includes the insertion of a lift, the reworking of the entrance sequence, including a beautiful new staircase down to the basement visitor facilities, and re-levelling and opening up of vaults below the entrance to provide a flowing, level space. Besides this, the architects created two new temporary exhibition galleries: one on the first floor and one carved out from the attic. The 21st century alterations make the site accessible whilst the insertion of new doors at the main galleries have improved the ease of visitor flow.

University of Warwick – Faculty of Arts | Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

The University of Warwick’s new Faculty of Arts building brings together the departments and schools of the institution under a single roof. The scheme creates a space where students from various disciplines can come together and collaborate. Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ building is shaped by the surrounding trees that define the parkland character of the site. This was achieved through four pavilion buildings that are connected by a lightweight atrium and a sculptural timber larch stair. The relationship between the individual sections opens up axial views from the main space onto the surrounding trees. This connection with nature is further reinforced by the atrium’s natural ventilation system and the terracotta cladding that references the earthy tones of the local geology. Inspired by the structure of a tree, the feature staircase organically grows through the central atrium space. Each branch helps to demarcate communal spaces, all the while encouraging cross-disciplinary cooperation. The combination of the client’s ambitions to create a new model of working for the faculty, and the architect’s holistic design approach has resulted in a building that is both inviting and flexible, enabling collaboration creativity and innovation.

Image credits:

1. & 2. John Morden Centre by . Photo: Jim Stephenson

3. & 4.Central Somers Town Community Facilities and housing by . Lewis Khan

5. A House For Artists by APPARATA Architects. David Grandorge

6. & 7. Lavender Hill Courtyard Housing by Sergison Bates Architects © Johan Dehlin

8. Courtauld Connects, The Courtauld Institute of Art © Philip Vile

9. & 10. University of Warwick Faculty of Arts by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. Photo: Daniel Hopkinson