As the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) recognise those buildings around the UK that have made a significant contribution to architecture this year, we explore seven of the 54 National Award winners, from which the shortlist for the prestigious RIBA Stirling prize will be drawn.

Coal Drops Yard: Heatherwick Studio

This project involves the conversion of Victorian coal warehouses in London’s King’s Cross into a high end retail and café destination.

Built as part of a wider regeneration of the King’s Cross area which includes Gasholders London, one of last year’s National winners, the history of this site is literally in with the bricks.

In the 1850s eight million tonnes of coal flowed through the two warehouses, and in the 1980s and 90s the space was home to a different kind of energy: London’s rave culture. The focus is less frenetic now, more economic.

The feature which catches the eye is the new swooping roofline. Although built on the original skeleton of the brick and cast iron structure, Heatherwick has lifted the roofs of the two buildings with a steel frame, raising both sides to meet at a ‘kissing point’ in the middle.

The resulting 25-metre double-height glass and timber space will be used for concerts and events, drawing more people to the site.

The regeneration of the area has been carefully curated by the developer Argent, with neighbours like Central Saint Martins and tech companies including Google and Facebook moving in, given time, there’s no doubt CDY will revisit the energy of its past.

Cork House: Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton

This little curiosity not only looks like a glorious set of beehives, but packs a low-carbon punch.

A partnership between architects, clients and the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL has created a proof of concept building with a powerful affirmation to sustainability, and an entirely cork structure which is carbon negative on completion and with low whole-life carbon.

Built from a prefabricated kit of parts including expanded cork blocks and engineered timber components, the structure can be assembled with no glue or mortar required and can be disassembled by hand if needed, and recycled.

As a construction material cork can function as part of the structure, will provide excellent insulation and if used externally will weather like timber.

The Cork House blends with its natural environment as it nestles among the trees and gardens of a Grade II listed mill house.

The corbelled cork roof supports windows which funnel light down into the space and bespoke copper rainwater fittings provide an aesthetic allure while being wholly practical.

This simple design and radical approach offer an imaginative response to bio-renewable construction. It’s no surprise that this project also won RIBA’s regional award for sustainability in the South.

The Dorothy Garrod Building: Walters & Cohen Architects

What began as a brief for 75 student residences transformed into a competition winner which met a variety of needs for the college.

Not only was there student accommodation, teaching rooms, a café, a rooftop gym, a Porters’ Lodge and conference facilities, but a new entrance and social areas were included in the mix.

What transpired was a change from the initial site to a new one which accommodates all of the spaces, and the remaking of a landscape which both complements the surrounding historical Basil Champneys’ architecture and embraces it in a neat enclosure to form a new courtyard garden.

Taking its inspiration from Champneys’ designs, the new building is also clad in red brick but supported by a concrete frame.

The use of open bond brickwork introduces a joyous design detail which, at night and backlit, delivers a warming and inviting element to the building.

The student rooms are spacious and light and the new café has become a convivial hub for students and lecturers alike.

V&A Dundee: Kengo Kasuma Associates

This building has many roles to fulfil – and many firsts to highlight. It’s the first V&A museum to be located outside of London, and Scotland’s first museum dedicated to design.

Constructed as a “living room for the city” of Dundee with a remit to educate and inspire, the building itself is an ambitious structure whose location is set to link the city with a regenerated riverside.

Its origins lie in a competition won by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, and it’s the first building in the UK by the studio. The exterior walls are intended to represent a Scottish cliff face, though its curvaceous ship-like lines seem to hark back to the heady days when Dundee’s riverside was filled with tall ships, and it echoes the RRS Discovery berthed alongside.

The building towers over the River Tay. Some 2,500 precast rough stone panels stand proud of its concrete walls across 21 separate sections.

Internally, wood panels mimic the exterior, lining the large volume of the breathtaking atrium – which may lead some to question the loss of potential exhibition space. But it remains an exemplar of sculptural engineering techniques.

Bristol Old Vic: Haworth Tompkins

There is a trend for laying bare the old bones of cultural buildings undergoing restoration, The Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continually operating theatre in the English-speaking world, so those bones have an extensive pedigree.

This facelift, which sees a front of house redevelopment, certainly has rejuvenated the building while flattering the history and experience within.

Using glass and timber the building opens up to the light and welcomes the public in from the street to be part of the drama of the structure.

Two new staircases guide visitors around the building, and a gallery of openings within the old brick structure encourages visitors to experience new viewpoints.

With the creation of a new studio theatre afforded by the judicious use of space, and developing better catering and hospitality, the intention is to welcome not just a theatre-going audience but the community at large, making this front of house a meeting point for all.

A Restorative Rural Retreat for Sartfell: Foster Lomas

The project involved the refurbishment of an existing cottage and creation of a new extension.

The new build has views over the Irish Sea and a long horizontal window inspired by the favoured pasttime of the clients – birdwatching. This love of nature is also the stimulus behind a drive for sustainability resulting in a number of measures to bring the retreat closer to an ultimate goal of a zero-carbon operation.

The Sartfell Retreat beds itself into the hillside, becoming one with the landscape. The steep topography of the surrounding area allows for earth sheltering, resulting in better temperature regulation, together with an orientation to maximise winter light.

Deep-set triple glazing insulates against wind rain and allows for shade on sunnier summer days. The house also makes use of a bore hole for its water and a bio-digester for waste management and awaits the installation of a wind turbine to meet its energy needs.

The concrete construction of the building is masked on the exterior by a natural stone cladding that blends with the surrounding dry stone walls and, along with a turf roof, offers additional thermal properties.

This cosy home will become part of a wider complex with the intention of sharing the biodiversity of the area with the local community and visitors.

Westminster Abbey Triforium Project: Ptolemy Dean Architects

What springs to mind when you think of a structure which would complement a 700-year-old ecclesiastical building? Yes, surely your first thought is a neo-gothic rocket.

Teasing aside, Westminster Abbey’s new ‘Weston Tower’ is an architectural homage to those that have gone before, and a steampunk nod to a Wellsian future.

Built in the south-eastern corner of the Abbey next to the 13th Century Chapterhouse and the 16th Century Lady Chapel, the structure needed to fit within a small footprint.

The shape of the structure traces two overlapping squares which form a star and echo the Westminster Retable, England’s oldest altar piece.

A steel column frame supports a lift and oak spiral staircase which is encased in 12,000 panes of leaded glass. Instead of enclosing precious works of art, this vertical vitrine wraps visitors as they climb seven storeys offering them an opportunity to experience the seldom-seen exterior of the building and its gargoyles up close and personal.

The lift and staircase provide access to the triforium – a once-hidden timber deck above the knave, where the new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries are located – also part of the conservation and redevelopment plan and another of the RIBA national winners.

All the winners
The complete list of 54 RIBA National Winners was announced on 27 June 2019. The shortlist for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize will be drawn from the National Winners.

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