What does it take to design an award-winning building?


Presented since 1966, the RIBA National Awards take place annually to celebrate the UK’s best and most significant contributions to Architecture that year. The 54 projects selected in 2019 cover a range of sectors, from galleries and heritage sites to houses and workplaces; but what is the all-important quality, or qualities, that take these projects to an award-winning level?

I’ve been speaking with the project architects responsible for this year’s RIBA national award winners to find out what the secret is to designing an award-winning building.

It goes without saying that in order to achieve results, you have to work hard. But in an industry like Architecture, where you need to consider endless contributing factors in the form of heritage value, community engagement and surrounding context, you have to have an undisputed passion, determination and resilience for what you do – then, naturally, the awards will follow. 

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“It’s the passion you put into it [architecture]; you live, breath and eat it”

says Heinz Richardson, Director of Jestico + Whiles and lead Architect for the beautiful and carefully considered restoration of Sir John Soane’s Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery.

Whilst it’s all well and good having the passion to deliver, if you don’t have a client that trusts you to do so, the project becomes restricted. Greg Lomas, Director at Foster Lomasand the design lead for the breathtaking Restorative Rural Retreat for Sartfell, outlined to me how appreciative he was to have a client with a strong architectural vision and to be granted such design freedom from them:

“Not everyone’s brave enough to enter that world and trust us to deliver it”.

A Restorative Retreat for Sartfell - Foster Lomas

Foster Lomas’ impressive design was commended by judges for its unique response to the surrounding landscape, “The retreat is an excellent response to the local landscape and climate, a classic thick building sitting into the hill” was the Architects’ Journal’s response.

It wasn’t only Greg who highlighted to me the importance of responding to the local landscape. Maurizio Mucciola, director at PiM.Studio and Project Architect for V&A Dundee said his intention was never to design an award-winning building, but to design a building that was special and unique to Dundee.

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In doing so, the building evolved into an award-winning project. Maurizio said:

“Every building is special to its own place, [which] gives the building character”.

6a Architects’ restoration of South London Gallery Fire Station also explores the existing landscape and surrounding context; upon entering the building, you can see straight through to the garden.

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John Ross, Director at 6a Architects believes the key to becoming an award-winning practice “lies in a certain attitude to seeing a building in its landscape and in its time”. There’s a skill in being able to leave the existing building or context enough to tell its story and show its scars, but also add to it enough so we don’t freeze architecture in a specific time.

The ultimate opinion that all of these leading and talented Architects shared, however, was that they were surrounded by a team of experts who are at the top of their given field. Whether they were collaborating with a specialised conservation team, like Julian Harrap Architects, or a particularly talented engineer, like Denis Kealy at Conisbee, every person I spoke to was complimentary of the team around them.

So it’s safe to say that it’s hard to set out with the intention to design an award-winning building. It’s through passion, trust, a careful consideration to the context and existing buildings and, above all, strong collaboration. Combine these thoughts with your knowledge and next year I’ll be interviewing you about how you achieved an award-winning result.

- Hannah Kay, Architecture & Design Recruitment Consultant 

For more industry insights and the latest vacancies in the Architectural space get in touch with Hannah now!

hfk@mattpart.com | 0207 960 2557

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