Jon Greenfield introduces the RIBA East regional awards, where this year homes, housing, offices and places of learning excelled. Click on the images to find out more
By area, this is the largest of the RIBA’s regions. Size means that its unifying distinctiveness is tempered by diversity: of landscape, both urban and rural, geology, and economics. The result is a corresponding ’interlinked-diversity’ in architecture, which was similarly reflected in this year’s awards submissions.
The two great economic magnets in the region are London in the south and the major north-south road and rail transport arteries in the west; transport conduits that allow traffic to fly past on their way to the industrial north and Scotland. There should be a third economic magnet – the long coastline. The sea doesn’t bring the wealth it once did, and many coastal towns are in almost irreversible decline. As a result the region is oddly hidden away; even the cities have a village-like/market town feel. Then there is the knowledge economy, with the power-houses of learning, Cambridge, Essex and UEA.
Of course being off the beaten track is also the region’s charm. Its remoter corners engender a fiercely independent local spirit, which blends with a contrasting desire across the region to look outwards and be at the forefront of new industries such as the low carbon economy. This duality generates a cultural tension that is a useful source for architects.
This creative tension is reflected in the shortlisted projects: architects have worked with cultural sophistication in the university towns, particularly on campus, and in rural projects for private clients that are finely calibrated to their settings and to the owners’ particular needs. Architects from and working in the East are enjoying the region’s complexity and contradiction, producing some beautifully tuned modern works. The building of the year, Proctor and Matthews’ Abode in Great Kneighton, drew together all aspects: it is urbane, urban and modern while achieving a humanity that captures the texture of the place. It is a worthy exemplar of architecture of the East.
Jon Greenfield, Barron and Smith Architects, Norwich, and chairman of RIBA East