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The Royal Institute of British Architects just revealed the finalists for this year’s Stirling Prize, which will crown one architectural wonder the “best new building” in the UK for 2021. Among the six structures competing for the coveted award are a modern mosque in Cambridge, a university student hub in Kingston, and a footbridge in Cornwall that links to a medieval castle.
All the contenders were recipients of this year’s RIBA National Award (which were revealed earlier this month), with the exception of 15 Clerkenwell Close by London-based firm Groupwork, which took home the regional honor in 2018.
“The six projects vary tremendously in their location and use—but they are united in their ingenuity and creativity, their consideration of their local environment and historical context, and their use of high-quality materials,” RIBA president Simon Allford said in a statement. “As we navigate major global challenges, from a global pandemic to the climate emergency, this shortlist demonstrates the critical role that UK architects play in creating thoughtful and sustainable places and spaces.”
Read on for a quick rundown of the chosen few before the winner is announced on October 14.
Commissioned by Lakeland Arts, the Carmody Groarke–designed art and culture institution rests on the eastern shore of Lake Windermere in Cumbria, seamlessly blending into its surroundings. Instead of one massive structure, the museum is broken up into several buildings that form a cluster of “pitched roof forms” overlooking the water. Spanning more than 27,500 square feet, the sustainable sprawl features an exterior made primarily of oxidized copper, designed to develop a beautiful natural patina over time.
The winner of this year’s RIBA East Award, Stanton Williams’ first affordable housing project showcases a series of thoughtfully designed courtyards and buildings meant to foster a sense of community. The urban complex, whose fully furnished rentals can be rented by students and faculty of the University of Cambridge, boasts a number of eco-friendly qualities, including rainwater harvesting and sustainable drainage systems.
Completed in 2020, this 225-foot-long span is the gateway to Tintagel Castle, a 13th-century medieval structure managed by English Heritage, sited on the cliff tops of North Cornwall. The overpass—which cost £5 million (nearly $7 million) to construct—tapers inward, measuring just 5.5 feet at its middle point.
Designed by Amin Taha’s Groupwork, this four-year-old construction that contains a mix of apartments and offices is sited on the grounds of an 11th-century limestone Norman abbey originally built by a baron. The seven-story property was later divided into small rentals, briefly housing the likes of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin in the 19th century. It eventually evolved into a furniture sales room that was ravaged by a fire in the 1970s, leaving only a few stones intact.
In envisioning this multi-use edifice, Grafton Architects imagined “a place where reading, dance, performance, lectures, exhibitions, research, learning, happily co-exist, under one roof.” Completed in 2019, the £42.5 million building spans over 97,000 square feet, half of which has an open plan. It connects to a number of external terraces, walkways, and balconies situated above street level, which serve to “animate the façade and display the vibrant life of the university to the outside world.”
Designed by Marks Barfield Architects for the Cambridge Mosque Trust, this contemporary spiritual center—winner of five 2021 RIBA Awards, including RIBA East Building of the Year—can accommodate up to a thousand worshippers at a time. Arguably its most distinct feature is the series of sustainably sourced timber columns, or “trees,” which rise up to support the roof using an “interlaced octagonal lattice vault structure evocative of English Gothic fan vaulting.” An Islamic garden leads visitors into an atrium, which connects to a prayer hall oriented toward Mecca.
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