London retirement community wins UK’s Stirling Prize

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A quiet retirement community in Blackheath, south London, has won the UK’s most prestigious architecture award, with judges praising it as “a place of joy and inspiration”.

The Royal Institute of British Architects said on Thursday that the John Morden Centre had received the Stirling Prize, which annually recognises Britain’s best new building.

The intimate, neat and contained series of homes is executed in brick and small in scale, inspired by neighbouring almshouses built in the 17th century by Edward Strong, Sir Christopher Wren’s master mason.

Quiet, contextual and delicate, the new building by Mae Architects is a fine piece of background architecture and one that addresses the increasingly urgent issue of accommodation for older people.

Ellen van Loon, chair of the Riba Stirling Prize jury, said: “The John Morden Centre is a place of joy and inspiration. It sensitively and seamlessly integrates medical facilities and social spaces, delivering a bold and hopeful model for the design of health and care centres for the elderly.

“Great architecture orients people so they can thrive, and this building is exemplary at achieving exactly that,” she added.

Enveloping timber construction inside the John Morden Centre © Jim Stephenson/Riba/PA

Cloisters and warm, enveloping timber construction in the interiors reinforce an almost monastic idea of community. The design also subtly incorporates an existing 1950s hall, which has been retained and refurbished rather than demolished, maintaining continuity and saving embodied carbon.

The client was Morden College and its residents are drawn from one-time business leaders who have fallen on harder times.

The building looks a little like something from rural Denmark in the early 1960s but perhaps that should be understood as a complement rather than a critique, an acknowledgment of the qualities of serious, well-made mid-century modernism all tempered by a bricky vernacular.

The shortlist for this year’s prize was dominated by quiet, community or public buildings that do their utmost to slot into existing neighbourhoods, revisiting rather than reinventing architectural archetypes.

Previous winners include The New Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge university, Hastings Pier and the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool.

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