Last night, the winner of the 2011 RIBA Manser Medal – Hampstead Lane in North London by Duggan Morris Architects – was announced.

Here judges Peter Mackie, Managing Director of Property Vision, a subsidiary of HSBC Private Bank, and Tony Chapman, RIBA Head of Awards, discuss this year’s winner and shortlist.

Peter: Another great evening Tony, fantastic to see such a turn out after the success of last year’s event.

Tony: Absolutely, and I’m of course very pleased for the winners – both the architects and the clients. There were some great schemes from the others on the shortlist too, don’t you think?

Peter: I do, but let’s talk about the winning house for now, Hampstead Lane, which was quite obviously a labour of love. Especially because rather than replacing the run down 1960s Brutalist house, the team transformed the property into a family home while retaining the character and qualities of the original structure. And seeing the collaboration between client and architect was a particular highlight for me. The clients are both considerable architects in their own right but decided (unusually) to work with another practice – the relatively young Duggan Morris Architects – to realise their vision.

Tony: It is interesting you should say that Peter. After I left the event I thought long and hard about how we could continue our diablog today. So, in the interests of objectivity – or maybe I mean post-rationalisation – I went back to those detailed criteria I was talking about earlier in the week to see how close we had come to a water-tight decision (but hey, didn’t most of Le Corbusier’s buildings leak?).

So here goes: it fulfils the client’s brief – tick. It demonstrates a fruitful collaboration between architect and client – tick. It gives the client value for money – tick. And ‘added value’, i.e. more than they asked for in the brief and something they did not know they needed until it was offered by the architects – tick. Plus it ‘Touches the earth lightly’ i.e. adopts the principles of sustainable design, in that it reuses instead of demolishing – tick. And balances the equation of natural daylight and heat loss/gain – lots of light and low energy consumption – tick.

Peter: Are you really going to list all of them?

Tony: Yes. Now where was I … oh yes. Makes the best use of the site – brilliantly – tick. Relates to context – er… this is Highgate. Uses appropriate/innovative materials and methods of construction – it reuses, that’s the point, so tick. Captures views from the principal rooms – out the back of a beautiful garden, another tick. Demonstrates ingenuity in plan and section without tricksiness – tick. Demonstrates flexibility of use, i.e. multi purpose or reconfigurable rooms which suits changing lifestyles: children, working from home, ageing, disability – open plan in the main area, cellular elsewhere – tick. Engages and delights its users and visitors – tick.

Peter: That was actually very helpful to go through it all again. Plus I think it’s also worth mentioning a bit more about the history of the property, because in many ways it has come full circle: originally built by an architect for himself and his family in the 1960s, then passed through several different hands before being sold to the current owners in quite a poor condition, which made the end result even more appealing to me.

Tony: Yes. And one other thing – I’m not sure we paid sufficient tribute to the original architects Stirling and Mary Craig, without whom none of this would have been possible etc, etc.  

As for the runners up I’ve also been thinking about why they so nearly made it: Balancing Barn because it was fun, it pushes the boundaries and is a great place to learn how architecture can life the spirits by renting it for a few days. Ty Hedfan – I love the idea of two architects designing a wing each and sticking them together – and it works and it gets one over on the planners by cantilevering over a river bank they weren’t allowed to build on. New Mission Hall – an upside-down house that’s snug in the bedrooms down below and full of light in the living spaces above; the way they kept the oak tree that had destroyed its predecessor is a bit like not putting down a dog that bites. House in Epsom (Deodar) – in the midst of all that glass and steel, a cosy mezzanine of a family room; and just the overall strength of the idea. Watson House – the horizontality of the house and the verticality of the trees; the way it literally touches the earth so lightly.

Peter: Sustainability was also a key thing evident in all of the shortlisted homes, such as the ground source heat pump utilised at New Mission Hall. I was interested to see the sensitive approaches taken to the sites and locations as well – the Ty Hedfan project for example, which created something very contemporary in a rural location while involving the local community and using local materials. And Watson House, with its strips of sweet chestnut that reflect the trees around it. Also how these projects work to change people’s perceptions of architecture – like Balancing Barn, which suspends holiday makers in mid air. And we were all impressed by the ambition and vision on display – such as the striking contemporary architecture of House in Epsom (Deodar), which as you said opens up to a surprisingly homely interior.

After all this talking about other peoples ideal houses, it raises the question Tony: if you could have your ideal home built for you, what would it be? Unique, timeless, creative…?

Tony: I sort of live in it now, though I wouldn’t mind if were a bit bigger.  It’s a 1960s townhouse – and yes it would be nice if the science of acoustic separation had been a little further advanced – and yes triple glazing had been around (we only got round to double a few years ago) – but the glass is the thing – all that light.  I couldn’t live without it, I couldn’t go back to a poky early Victorian cottage where you need the lights on for three quarters of the waking day for three quarters of the year.  It’s a kind of offspring of Span – only a bit bigger, but planted with the same birches and with theoretically shared land at the front and private at the back.  It’s brilliant.  The only way I might improve upon it is to win the Lottery, which I don’t play, and have Niall McLaughlin design me a house with glass, concrete, timber and light.  But it would have to be in Richmond, so I suppose I’ll just dream on.

Peter: On that note let’s leave it there, and let me just thank you and everyone at the RIBA involved in the Manser Medal for yet another hugely successful year.

Tony: Thank you Peter and all of your colleagues at HSBC Private Bank and Property Vision for once again supporting the Manser Medal.

1 Comment
  1. Ray Merrington

    November 17, 2011

    I find the definition of the original house as ‘Brutalist’ totally inappropriate. We are talking here I believe of Jim Stirlinmg and Mart Craig’s house.

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