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Stirling Prize sets the pace: longer life, looser fit and lower carbon

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Simon Allford

Our most public award celebrates not just architecture, but highlights our responsibilities as architects, says Simon Allford

In October the Stirling Prize was announced live to the world on BBC TV, online to all our global membership – via a live feed – and in person at 66 Portland Place.

It was a worthy celebration of architecture, practice and our profession. But also a demonstration of our House of Architecture @RIBA and its ability to engage both the public and the profession not just in a celebration – though it was a delightful inclusive event – but a discussion about architecture’s roles and responsibilities.

Our world of architecture and infrastructure must adapt – and fast. The built environment is responsible for 38% of the world’s CO2 emissions. We have tough targets and 2030 is just EIGHT years away so we must all urgently address the great problems we face. Charles Darwin said: ‘The species that survives is the one that is best able to adapt to… the changing environment in which it finds itself.’

One of our key responsibilities as an Institute of Ideas is to help our members establish the common ground: the how as well as the why. In our dynamic world, where we are taking actions every day, it is essential that we record, report and share knowledge. And that we continually reassess our measures and standards – in design and in use. We need to establish a fertile ground for technological and cultural review of what we are doing and how it is working. We must accept that will make mistakes so must learn from and share them. This is why we are putting together a ‘Practice in a Box’ – a home for all the vital professional tool for practice – from contracts to carbon. It will itself be subject to an ongoing critical review by members on our Member Hub. This feedback loop is vital to us all in all we do in the hugely challenging times we live and work in.

Our world of architecture and infrastructure must adapt – and fast. We have tough targets and 2030 is just EIGHT years away

I am an architect so I am an optimist and I believe that by working collaboratively we can rise to the challenge. To evolve fast we need to innovate. But innovation has never been about style or shapes or formal derring-do. It is about improvement by iteration to successfully address the great problems we face. These challenges demand great thinking from us all. We must all consider architecture as permanent infrastructure, to be renewed and reused by future generations. A Forever Architecture where nothing need be added and nothing can be taken away. An architecture that delights in accommodating the theatre of everyday life.

For all these reasons I was delighted to announce that the winner of the 2022 Stirling prize was The New Library, Magdalene College – a building that is sophisticated, generous and built to last. A calm sequence of connected spaces where people come together to contemplate and collaborate. The overarching commitment to build something that will stand the test of time can be felt in every material and detail, and from every viewpoint. This is the epitome of how to build for the long term. Well-designed generous environments, whether adaptations of existing structures or considered new construction, must become the rule not the exception.

These are exacting times but they are also exciting times. We are all now designing for longer life, looser fit and lower carbon

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