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JUNE 2015

RIBA Stirling Prize Shortlist

Niall McLaughlin Architects are thrilled that Darbishire Place, Whitechapel Peabody Housing has been shortlisted for this year’s Stirling Prize.

Writing about Darbishire Place in a piece written for the Guardian, Olivier Wainwright said ” Filling in the gap of a second world war bomb site, the building follows the sobriety of Darbishire’s designs for “cheap, cleanly, well drained and healthful dwellings for the poor”, but updates it with generous internal spaces and sharply-crafted details that make it as near to a model housing scheme as you could find”.

The RIBA President Stephen Hodder, says: “The shortlisted projects are each surprising new additions to urban locations – hemmed into a hospital car park, in-filling an east London square, completing a school campus. But their stand-out common quality is their exceptionally executed crafted detail.”

The other 5 buildings making this years shortlist are Burntwood School in Wandsworth, designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris; the Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre in Lanarkshire, by Reiach and Hall; the NEO Bankside luxury apartments in Southwark, Rogers Stirk Harbour; the Library and Teaching Building at the University of Greenwich, by Heneghan Peng; and the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, by MUMA.


JUNE 2015


Images: Avenham Park Pavillion, Preston.  The Institute of Timber, Detroit

‘What do you see when you look up through the trees? Try to imagine this moment in a pretended place or part of a journey through a particular sequence of spaces. How does one describe this experience? What is it about spaces in nature, for example forests, which make them fascinating yet at the same time unsettling places to inhabit? A forest offers a place of refuge and natural beauty where the element of surprise is all part of the experience’

The idea of nature as a spatial experience and a driver for architectural form was a question that ran through my academic work and has subsequently led to an obsession with a perceptual and evolving architecture. It is interesting that my time in the office has allowed me to both reflect and discover parallels that run through similar themes in the work of the practice. A pursuit for a “thicket-like” characteristic, which allows for shifts in spatial qualities and a variation of patterns that overlay like woven surfaces to define space are just some of the mannerisms that I have begun to recognise.

I compare my own attempt to generate a kind of place that is animated, brightening as you ascend towards the canopy when reading the blurred lines of the roof of the pavilion designed for a woodland park in Preston. The structure is designed as a number of layers of mesh to capture rain whilst creating a display of shadows that activate the building beneath. As a competition proposal, the structure was never fully realised yet it has been the ideas established during this process that still resonate today. By staggering the building between the tree density, the line of the pavilion is undefined breaking the traditional form of constructing space and allowing a new reading of the building and landscape. Particularly enlightening in the search for the enclosure of space is a fruition of a screen-like quality that works as a surface and also as a generator of it’s tectonic form.

The use of the screen as a ‘device’ in our architecture allows elements to become not only separators of rooms or the external environment but also actuators for unique and unimagined spatial experiences. In search of this architecture is an attempt to purposefully discover a different architecture and an unplanned result that wouldn’t necessarily be reached through something un-natural.

Benni Allan graduated from the Bartlett with Distinction in 2014, and has been working on a project for Jesus College, Cambridge since joining Niall McLaughlin Architects. In February 2015, Benni was named as one of the nation’s up-and-coming designers and ‘One to Watch’ by the Design Council to represent the future of British design. His project the ‘City of Forests’ looked at beautifying Detroit through reforestation strategies to promote a denser, greener and more sustainable future in which timber becomes the main economic output. As Detroit continues to struggle with the effects of massive industrial changes, this more positive image of vacancy as an asset opens new discussions about the future post-industrial city.