Top architecture awards celebrate a new university building in Kingston, affordable townhouses in Newham & a converted water tower in Norfolk

The Royal Institute of British Architects has picked winners for its big design awards of 2021:
  • Grafton Architects has won the Stirling Prize for Kingston University Town House.
  • Peter Barber Architects has won the Neave Brown Award for Housing for McGrath Road in Newham.
  • Tonkin Liu has won the Stephen Lawrence Prize for The Water Tower, a private home in Norfolk.

Stirling Prize 2021: Kingston University Town House
designed by Grafton Architects

The biggest prize of the year has been awarded to a university building in South West London. Grafton Architects’ Kingston University Town House is “a progressive new model for the design of higher education buildings,” says the RIBA; “the dynamic student ‘Town House’ expertly captures the spirit of learning and the value of community cohesion.”

“Kingston University Town House is a theatre for life – a warehouse of ideas,” says Lord Norman Foster, Speaking on behalf of the 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize jury. “It seamlessly brings together student and town communities, creating a progressive new model for higher education, well deserving of international acclaim and attention.

In this highly original work of architecture, quiet reading, loud performance, research and learning, can delightfully co-exist. That is no mean feat. Education must be our future – and this must be the future of education.”

Neave Brown Award for Housing 2021: McGrath Road
designed by Peter Barber Architects

The Neave Brown Award for Housing – named after social housing pioneer, Neave Brown (1929 – 2018) – recognises the UK’s best affordable housing. 2021’s winner is Peter Barber Architects, for a series of townhouses on McGrath Road in Newham.

26 three and four-storey dwellings have been built, linked together by a communal tree-lined courtyard, providing a mix of social rent, affordable rent and shared ownership tenures. All houses have balconies and private terraces and a living room on the top floor to embrace the views across London. “The development challenges conventional housing configurations and sets a new standard for high-quality affordable housing,” says the RIBA.

“In addition to its sheer inventiveness, this project has made a huge contribution to the wider area; projecting its optimism, whilst managing to feel neighbourly,” says Chair of the awards jury David Mikhail. “The architects have moulded a place of character, both within the scheme and the community it serves. It demonstrates how imaginative street-based architecture can be socially progressive and architecturally engaging – a combination that endears Peter Barber Architects’ work to so many people.”

“Intelligent, dynamic and original – this unique configuration of housing has the McGrath Road community at its heart,” adds RIBA President Simon Allford. “It’s an exemplar of high-quality social housing within one of London’s most densely populated boroughs and demonstrates what can – and must – be achieved across the country. It would, I am sure, have been championed by the late, great Neave Brown.”

Stephen Lawrence Prize 2021: The Water Tower
designed by Tonkin Liu

The conversion of an industrial steel water tower into a eco-conscious rural family home has won 2021’s Stephen Lawrence Prize – established in 1998 in memory of Stephen Lawrence, a teenager who was on his way to becoming an architect when he was tragically murdered in 1993.  The award is intended to encourage new architectural talent, celebrating and rewarding projects with a construction budget of less than £1m.

“The landmark masterfully retains much of the original metal structure,” says the RIBA team of this year’s winner, as well as being “an ingenious eco-build that accommodates its natural setting, utilising its roof terrace and room placements to overlook and appreciate the surrounding Norfolk countryside.”

“The Water Tower demonstrates how buildings can be saved and enlivened through expert retrofitting, high-quality craftsmanship and faultless attention to detail,” says Marco Goldschmied (whose foundation provides a £5k bursary to the winner). “The jury unanimously commend Tonkin Liu – the worthy recipient of the 22nd Stephen Lawrence Prize – and their ambitious client for their creativity and dedication. With the positive support and involvement of the local community they have breathed new life into this historic rural structure to create a truly unique family home.

“As we have done on three previous occasions we would also like to give a special mention and £1,000 award to Floating Church by Denizen Works, a multi-purpose church and community facility that sits upon a London narrowboat.”

Main image: © Morley von Sternberg