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High Performing Buildings – September’s Roundup

High Performing Buildings – September’s Roundup
26 September 2023

This month’s high performing buildings roundup features the shortlist for the coveted RIBA Stirling Prize 2023.

The prize is known as the UK’s most prestigious architecture prize, awarded for innovation, design vision and sustainability, amongst other credentials. This year’s shortlist includes a residential and caring facility, an apartment for shared living for artists and a new university building. The winner will be announced on 19 October 2023. 

Let’s take a look at the shortlist:


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A House for Artists


A House for Artists is a residential space in Barking that offers shared living for local artists. The premise is that creative people have a sustainable and affordable place to live, in exchange for providing free creative programmes for the local community.

There is space for 12 artists arranged across five floors with a communal outdoor space for eating and working together. Apparata Architects have created a communal and spacious feeling with corridor-free internal arrangements, tall ceilings, and dual-aspect openings.

An anonymous resident told the RIBA Journal: “It doesn’t look like most housing. Friends and family who visit are shocked – in a good way. In general, the lower your income, the smaller your windows. To have massive shopfront windows in social housing should be celebrated. Because of the overhang they give a very nice quality of light. Everyone who comes in immediately feels at peace. 

“The flats seem bigger than they are because of the high ceilings and generosity of the living room. I like the way they all look slightly different because people are able to arrange furniture in different ways. I love the concrete, too; it gives character and I can hang plants from the ceiling, and easily remove them without ripping off plaster. 

“It’s not utopia. For that, things would have to change in housing policy. Leases are renewed annually; we don’t have the security of traditional council tenancies. But it is a beautiful building that should encourage more people to question how housing is provided in this country.” 


Central Somers Town Community Facilities and Housing


Central Somers Town Community Facilities and Housing is part of the London Borough of Camden’s wider plan to regenerate the Somers Town area, adjacent to St Pancras station. Designed by Adam Khan Architects, Plot no. 10 has been transformed into a flexible community children’s facility as well as several housing units for social rent.  

The project has been praised for its spaces for children including a generous outdoor adventure playground and a large rooftop football pitch The RIBA jury commended the facility as a “key community asset which is a marked improvement on the previous facility on the site.”


Courtauld Gallery


Located at the iconic Somerset House, the Courtauld Gallery is home to a permanent collection of art ranging from the Renaissance through to the 20th century. The gallery is located in the central section of the building, facing onto the Strand.

The entrance to the building has been completely reworked, with a new stair down to the basement visitor facilities. Structured from cantilevered stone, it has a timber handrail that is softly carved and set into the stone with steel pins.


Picture: a photograph of the interior of Courtauld Gallery. Image Credit: Philip Vile


A new temporary exhibition gallery has been carved out of an office and an attic roof space, and a new gallery has been created at first-floor level from an old painting store. The transformation of the gallery also includes the re-levelling of floors to make the gallery accessible, and the insertion of new doors in the main galleries, which have improved visitor flow.

The renovation is the first part of a multi-phase project that aims to open up the institution both physically and culturally.


John Morden Centre


The John Morden Centre in Blackheath, London, is a daycare centre for the residents of the care home Morden College.

The building has been commended for its warm approach to creating social and medical facilities for care home residents, particularly the way that each part of the building moves between views of the garden. The flow of the building also means that recreational and medical facilities combine without feeling institutional.

David Rutherford-Jones, CEO of Morden College told the RIBA Journal: “When I came here a decade ago Morden College was a lovely place but it was inward looking and felt as if it needed modernising; the new centre has done that for us. Alex Ely got the brief spot-on, creating a space that is contemporary in its feel but with all the beauty and tactility of the quadrangle that residents know so well.”


Lavender Hill Courtyard Housing


In Clapham, Lavender Hill Courtyard is a former sheet-metal workshop that has been redeveloped into nine apartments, a courtyard space and a timber-decked terrace.

The location has been described as a “previously undesirable and highly constrained urban site”, but through an unassuming entrance via a gated mews, tenants have access to a garden with fruit trees and wheelchair-accessible clay brick paths.

Caroline Marston, Chair Marston Properties told the RIBA Journal: “The project is a real jigsaw puzzle, and while you might expect lots of dead-ends and big walls without windows, it’s the opposite: openness and layered views throughout. Rents are at the top end locally, but residents have been amazed by what they get, especially the outside spaces. One told me they want to stay forever.”


University of Warwick – Faculty of Art


This new building brings together the departments and schools of the arts faculty under a single roof at the University of Warwick for the first time.  

Four pavilion buildings are connected by a feature staircase, inspired by the structure of a tree, that organically grows through the central atrium space. The idea behind the staircase was to foster chance meetings and inspire collaboration. It was expected that 60 per cent of users would take these stairs, but in reality, the figure is nearer to 100 per cent up to level 3 of the building.



Picture: a photograph of the feature staircase at the new arts building at the University of Warwick. Image Credit: Daniel Hopkinson


The building uses a mixed-mode ventilation framework, providing openable windows in summer and maintaining excellent air quality in winter through high-efficiency mechanical ventilation with heat recovery. The exposed concrete structure was created using 50 per cent local cement replacement, saving 265 tonnes of embodied carbon.

Picture: a photograph of the garden at the John Morden Centre, with a tree at its centre. Image Credit: John Stephenson

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 26 September 2023


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