Pride of place

Proctor and Matthews’ Abode scoops the Civic Trust’s top accolade. Hugh Pearman was one of the judges

The National Panel Award went to Abode at Great Kneighton by Proctor and Matthews – there's a THERE here.
The National Panel Award went to Abode at Great Kneighton by Proctor and Matthews – there's a THERE here.

The Civic Trust Awards have been running since 1959, even surviving the break-up of the Civic Trust itself in 2009. That makes them, in my view, one of only two ‘real’ properly-judged across-the-board awards schemes in architecture, started from noble motives. The other, of course, is the RIBA’s own magisterial regional awards system, which began in 1966. Today there is a plethora of other awards of all kinds from other organisations – way too many, in fact – but these two metal-plaque accolades have senior status. They are different and complementary beasts, as I found when I joined the Civic Trust Award’s National Panel for this year’s selection. 

Presented with a project as recommended by the local panels, it was a touch disconcerting at first not to find an architect’s name on it.  Since my first question on seeing an interesting building is always ‘who’s the architect?’ this was like having a prop knocked away from under me. This, however, is the rule: Civic Trust Awards are judged anonymously, by panels representing a wide variety of interests, not just architects and camp followers like me.  In a nutshell, they are about place in its widest sense – accessibility and landscape and community involvement all being part of the mix.  The Civic Trust was originally prompted by the 1950s ‘townscape’ movement – promoted by the Architectural Review, and whipped along in its 1955 ‘Outrage’ issue by the horror expressed by Ian Nairn that, in the post-war rebuilding, everywhere was starting to look like everywhere else. This was (another Nairn coinage) ‘subtopia’.

So judges of the Civic Trust Awards must champion the spirit of place, be sworn opponents of subtopia, and not get too architectey about things, despite the presence of some first-rate architects on the panel. Thus it was that, alongside many of the built projects familiar from the RIBA Awards, we also found ourselves discussing the merits of, say, a new skatepark in Brighton.  Not to mention temporary projects, arts and landscape projects and – intriguingly for an awards scheme with such very British roots – a healthy entry from overseas.

  • Abode Great Kneighton – not all pitched roofs, dark timber and brick.
    Abode Great Kneighton – not all pitched roofs, dark timber and brick.
  • Mecanoo's Library of Birmingham won the Selwyn Goldsmith Award for Universal Design, the accessibility category.
    Mecanoo's Library of Birmingham won the Selwyn Goldsmith Award for Universal Design, the accessibility category. · Credit: Harry Cock
  • Somerset House Trust won the Michael Middleton Special Award, the restoration category, for its West Wing project.
    Somerset House Trust won the Michael Middleton Special Award, the restoration category, for its West Wing project.
  • Pro-tem award – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by Paul Cummins, at the Tower of London.
    Pro-tem award – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by Paul Cummins, at the Tower of London. · Credit: Historic Royal Palaces
  • Pringle Richards Sharratt won the Special Award for Community Impact and Engagement for the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton.
    Pringle Richards Sharratt won the Special Award for Community Impact and Engagement for the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton.
  • The Special Award for Scotland went to Maggie's Lanarkshire by Reiach and Hall.
    The Special Award for Scotland went to Maggie's Lanarkshire by Reiach and Hall. · Credit: David Grandorge
  • Saw Swee Hock student centre at the LSE by O'Donnell and Tuomey picked up the Special Award for Brick. Sponsor Derwent London.
    Saw Swee Hock student centre at the LSE by O'Donnell and Tuomey picked up the Special Award for Brick. Sponsor Derwent London. · Credit: Dennis Gilbert
  • Rick Mather Architects' Chester Balmore development in Camden won the Special Award for Sustainability.
    Rick Mather Architects' Chester Balmore development in Camden won the Special Award for Sustainability. · Credit: Jim Stephenson

The upshot:  91 awards and commendations (you are presented not only with the plaque, but, separately proffered by TV presenter George Clarke, the bolts with which to affix it) plus eight special category awards including the National Panel’s chosen favourite – top dog, if you like. Although this was the last to be announced and got the full filmed-interview treatment, it was clear that the hierarchy of awards is generally much closer-packed than it is in the RIBA system. A commendation is treated pretty much as an award in its own right, and the National Panel Award is not a Stirling Prize equivalent, more of an extra pat on the back for that scheme. Which this year is….

Abode at Great Kneighton by Proctor and Matthews, architect for Countryside Properties.  OK, it’s outside Cambridge, so upmarket. But given the vast expansion of housing that the UK needs, more exemplar projects like this – new places that are not only good architecture when it comes to individual buildings but actually feel like real places - are badly needed.  Mass housebuilders, please take note.