“Some people are confused by the decisions”

Simon Henley

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

Having reached the penultimate hurdle before the Stirling Prize shortlist – to be announced on 31 July – the projects highlight the huge variety of work that architects lead, from master plans to private houses, from new to redeveloped buildings and conservation projects.

From 195 selected regional projects across the UK that were named in January to the 111 regional winners in May, these 26 national award winners represent the best of British architecture.

Awards always generate strong opinions and I’m glad people continue to take an interest in how and why decisions are made. When I took on the role of Chair of the RIBA Awards Group in January, I spoke about how the awards create debate across the country, and the value it brings.

Awards always generate strong opinions

The RIBA Awards – and the dialogue that surrounds them – have the power to communicate our professional work to a wider public and make the case for the work we do, for investing in architects and architecture. Well-designed buildings provide extraordinary benefits not only to their users, but also to their neighbors and local communities, creating pride.

The awards are also a testament to our ability to restore and adapt older structures, with nearly 40 percent of the winning projects involving reuse or retrofitting. They include Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects’ reinvention of Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, one of the world’s first iron-framed buildings and the “grandfather of skyscrapers”; the same practice’s work in Bath Abbey in the center of this UNESCO city; the integration of old and new structures and the integration of the castle itself into the city of Auckland Castle by Purcell and Níall McLaughlin Architects; the reinvention of the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh by Reiach and Hall; and the next phase in the adaptation of the brutal Park Hill estate in Sheffield by Mikhail Riches.

The prices and the dialogue that surrounds them make arguments for the work we do

In each case, the architects and client didn’t just save the building for preservation’s sake, they created a project of national significance for its preservation, ingenuity, and forward-thinking approach to reuse and adaptation. And although not a building, Allies and Morrison and Porphyrios Associates’ master plan for King’s Cross also integrates incredible heritage into this new city district.

It was particularly fantastic this year to see so many projects demonstrate incredible social purpose, including Clementine Blakemore Architects’ beautifully restored Wraxall Yard dairy farm offering inclusive holiday accommodation, and Curl La Tourelle Head’s Alfreton Park Community Special School for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. .

Similarly, affordable housing is a priority, as with the cleverly planned and beautifully detailed terrace of Hackney Council houses at Chowdhury Walk off Al-Jawad Pike; Page/Park’s North Gate Social Housing, designed for older residents as a “micro-tower” of apartments; and PTE’s Beechwood Village where prospective buyers could choose a plot of land and customize a unique home.

Of course, the profession’s response to the climate crisis is now crucial and two schemes stand out in this regard: Boehm Lynas and GS8’s Arbor in Walthamstow, where 10 homes were designed and built by a young team on a dense, waste-free site; and the engineered timber office, the Black & White Building by Waugh Thistleton.

This year there are also many fine examples of carefully designed architecture that builds on tradition and looks to 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 RIBA Awards judging visit was 21 years ago and since then I have had the privilege of traveling across the UK to see how decisions are made at all levels.

Source: Jack Hobhouse

Gainsborough’s House Museum, Sudbury, by ZMMA named RIBA East Building of the Year 2024 – but missed out on 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 a selection of projects.

However, despite the rigorous process to ensure that all entrants have a fair and equal chance to win, I know some people are confused by the final decisions. For example, not all projects hailed as their regional building win at the national level. Why? As we look at the UK as a whole, we compare and contrast the design quality and local impact of schemes against a national standard of excellence.

The regional awards are so important to show the best in class on a local scale, but the national awards see a different picture.

And the next step is even tougher – choosing just six buildings to go forward for consideration by the Stirling Prize jury. Our shortlist will be announced at the end of July with the Stirling Prize winning practice on 16 October. Thankfully, it’s not my decision.

Simon Henley is chairman of RIBA’s Awards Group and principal of London-based architects Henley Halebrown

Source: Jim Stephenson 2022

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

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