What are the RIBA Awards and who organises them?

Since 2016, the Royal Institute of British Architects has held its biannual RIBA International Awards gala to honour architectural projects with the greatest positive impact. Although this institution has actually been celebrating the world of architecture for almost two centuries.

Founded in 1834 as the Institute of British Architects, the organisation brought together the UK’s most prestigious architects and grew thanks to the drive of great builders such as Horace Jones (the creator of the iconic Tower Bridge in London) and other famous names such as Charles Robert Cockerell, Philip Hardwick and George Gilbert Scott.

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Just three years after its establishment, the Institute of British Architects was granted a royal charter to become the Royal Institute of British Architects: a landmark organisation that came to hold one of the largest specialist architectural libraries in the world.  Since then and up to the present day, its library has continued to grow, as has its membership, which now exceeds 40,000. Among them we can highlight great names in contemporary architecture such as Oscar Niemeyer, Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, Santiago Calatrava, Richard Meier, Renzo Piano and many more. But only a select few have been worthy of its two major awards: the RIBA Gold Medal and the Stirling Prize. Today we want to tell you more about the winners of the 2021 edition.

The 2021 edition of Riba Awards

Regardless of this year’s winner, all the award winners can count themselves fortunate to be considered as planners of buildings that transform the world through their functionality.

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This is the idea behind the award-winning projects of previous years: from humble constructions such as the wooden Children’s Village built by Aleph Zero and Rosenbaum studios in the middle of the Brazilian savannah, to very expensive projects such as the headquarters of the University of Engineering and Technology in Lima. This latest project by the architectural studios Grafton and Shell continues to surprise in South America for its daring structural proposal that perfectly fuses the spirit of G.B. Piranesi’s architecture with the character of Juan Gris’s cubist sculptures.

POST PREMIOS RIBA 2021

As a novelty for this edition of the RIBA Awards 2021, the Royal Institute of British Architects has placed the French architect Odile Decq, whose practice has carried out highly successful projects such as the Fangshan Tangshan-Geopark National Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, at the head of the jury’s presidency. In addition, her numerous examples of residential architecture and office buildings complete a truly multifaceted profile that has been useful when assessing the projects and architects worthy of reaching the final of the RIBA 2021 awards. The other members of the jury accompanying Odile Decq are the architect Gustavo Utrabo, winner of the RIBA International Prize in 2018, the set designer Es Devlin, the architect Rossana Hu of the international studio Neri&Hu in Shanghai and the American architect Jeanne Gang.

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The finalists for the RIBA Awards 2021

The RIBA awards are given every two years, however, the Royal Institute of British Architects also has other award categories such as the RIBA Royal Gold Medal, recently awarded to architect David Adjaye. However, the best known award is the RIBA International Prize, and we already know the winner. But first, we would like to introduce you to the two super finalist projects that have come close to glory, but have not ended up winning the first prize.

  • David Chipperfield Architects with his project for the James Simon Gallery (Berlin). A building that fuses neoclassicism with minimalism and is located in the heart of the German capital’s Museum Island. Its style has nothing casual about it, as it seeks to integrate itself in a solmene and subtle way with the Neues Museum, the Pergamon Museum and the Altes Museum.
  • Wilkinson Eyre and Urban Agency with their curvilinear bridge project in Lille Langebro (Copenhagen). A project for a 160-metre long pedestrian bridge that highlights the cultural value of the bicycle, the symbol of this Danish city. A work at the service of the city that includes the technical challenge of being a mobile bridge that opens surprisingly horizontally to carry maritime traffic.
Credits: SIMON MENGES

The final winner of the RIBA Awards 2021

Kashef Chowdhury and URBANA studio are the definitive winners of these awards thanks to their humble but impactful project for the Friendship Hospital in Satkhira (Bangladesh) built in 2011 and now awarded.

This hospital complex of almost 2,900 square meters is located in a rural area of Bangladesh that was devastated by a cyclone, so Chowdhury had two major premises when it came to building it: low cost due to the economic situation of the area and the necessary strength and quality of the construction materials. The first hurdle to overcome was the foundation of the entire area, which was particularly clayey due to the proximity of areas flooded by the Betna River. The team of Kashef Chowdhury and URBANA took three different approaches to find the right solution for the foundations.

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Credits: ASIF SALMAN

Once this obstacle had been overcome, the architects planned an upper structure where the exposed brickwork would have the function of both securing and embellishing and giving identity to the entire project. Another of the keys to the construction of this hospital lay in its particular courtyard structure, a design decision that obeyed three basic functions: to connect the different spaces of the building, to allow ventilation and to favour natural lighting. In addition, issues such as the integration of a water channel with irrigation and therapeutic functions has been another of the most applauded successes of the project.

In short, the work of the Kashef Chowdhury team and the URBANA studio has made it possible to build a total of 70 hospital beds in a very economically depressed area, and this human factor has been decisive in the decision of the jury of the RIBA 2021 awards.

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In the words of jury president Odile Decq:

“Amistad Hospital embodies an architecture of humanity and protection that reflects the philanthropic mission of the NGO Amistad to provide dignity and hope to communities through social innovation”

If you want to meet the other 15 participants who were nominated for the RIBA 2021 awards, you can see their amazing projects in this magazine article. They may not have won this year’s edition, but their constructions also show real talent.