RIBA Awards 2021: Islington building ordered to be demolished by council makes the shortlist for UK’s top architecture prize

 (Tim Soar)
(Tim Soar)

A controversial limestone apartment block, which was issued with multiple demolition orders by Islington council, is one of six striking buildings just shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects' award for the UK's best new building.

On a site near Farringdon, where an 11th Century Norman Abbey once stood, the seven-storey building was originally going to have a brick façade.

But owner and architect Amin Taha, who lives in one of the eight apartments, decided to use raw quarried limestone with a variety of finishes - smooth, rough, drilled and even exposed fossils — prompting the first of two demolition orders to be issued by the council.

Islington Council said 15 Clerkenwell Close did not fit in with the surrounding buildings and that elements of the planning application were not adhered to, the council later found missing documents which showed the proposed stone design with defined fossils.

The first demolition order was withdrawn in 2017, while the second was overturned in August 2019 after being appealed by Taha's practice.

The RIBA jury report said of the shortlisted project: "Risks have been taken and have paid off, resulting in a truly imaginative, intriguing and astonishing work of architecture."

Other projects to have been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize include the new footbridge at Tintagel Castle on the North Cornwall coast, replacing a crossing that once stood there but disappeared between the 14th and 17th centuries.

"This is much more than a bridge," said the RIBA jury of the project for English Heritage. "It is a connector, an enabler, an interpreter and a spectacle all within its own right."

A mosque in Cambridge, with 1,000-worshipper capacity yet one that doesn't dominate its low-rise residential neighbourhood, is also in the running for the prize.

Timber 'trees' form the structural support for the roof and roof lights, and the building has achieved net zero carbon energy on site in use.

The RIBA jury praised Central Cambridge mosque for its "demonstration of how architecture can embody religious and cultural philosophy and traditions while utilising sustainable and contemporary materials."

Tintagel Castle Footbridge
Tintagel Castle Footbridge

Also in Cambridge is another of the shortlisted projects, Key Worker Housing in Eddington, a scheme of homes available to rent for qualifying members of the university.

Back in London, Kingston University's new student hub - called Town House - contains spaces for a range of uses from a dance studio to a library.

Described as a "rich, beautiful canvas against which to set young creative minds free," by the RIBA judges, the Town House has achieved BREEAM Excellent certification in design.

The final project to make the six-strong shortlist is The Windermere Jetty Museum, a cluster of dark shed-like buildings containing spaces for climate-controlled galleries and workshops. One that was described by the jury as having a "restrained and simple beauty that is boldy confident in its design."

RIBA President Simon Allford said: "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."

Cambridge Central Mosque (Handout)
Cambridge Central Mosque (Handout)

"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."

Projects from every UK region were considered for the shortlist announced today. London’s contenders included the English National Ballet’s translucent new home in Canning Town and Tottenham Hotspur’s 60,000-seat stadium.

With the cancellation of the 2020 RIBA Awards circuit due to the coronavirus pandemic, most of the longlisted projects were actually completed in 2019.

The 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize, now in its 25th year, will be announced on Thursday 14 October.

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