Urgent issues of the day taken on by the winner, commended and shortlist as this year's RIBAJ/Future Architects writing competition results are announced
RIBAJ/Future Architects writing competition drew over 100 entries from future architects studying and working across the UK and internationally. More impressive than the geography though was the breadth of the subjects covered – from profiles of innovators and architects to energised engagement with, and analysis of, much loved places and deeply personal pieces that explored identity and issues of race and disability.
It was clear that personal experience was the key to much of the best of the writing and that the upheavals of 2020 have allowed future architects to connect that powerfully to the issues of the day.
The judges were Shawn Adams of PoOR Collective and HTA, a RIBAJ Rising Star and New Architecture Writers alumni; Wajiha Afsar of Atkins Global who was commended in 2020’s Future Architects writing competition; Lucy Watson, Financial Times commissioning editor and Eleanor Young, acting editor of RIBA Journal who chaired the panel. We are excited by the fresh voices it has brought out.
The winner is Sarah Maafi, who is studying for her Part 2 at TU Munich, for ‘Racism is a choice’. This draws on her personal experience of news of George Floyd’s killing to make wider points about racism and allyship in architectural practice and everyday life. The judges were unanimous in their decision. ‘It is a powerful take on racism, passionate and with a good structure,’ said Afsar. ‘It makes the issues accessible and relatable.’ Adams noted how a good use of quotes and statistics was paired with a personal aspect. ‘It is really strong, and measured,’ concluded Watson. Maafi wins £400 as well as the title of RIBAJ/Future Architects writer of 2021.
Four further entrants were commended, each winning £150.
Eilidh Allan, who is working at Frank Reynolds Architects as a Part 1, focused on home and rent inequalities, including that of race, and took Grenfell Tower as her starting point. It was variously described by the judges as ‘bold and direct’ (Watson) and a ‘powerful, thoughtful call to action’ (Adams). ‘I can’t breathe is an evocative title,’ said Afsar, who also praised the ‘strong intro with a good use of quotes’ and the fact it was easy to read.
Addressing issues of privilege, while focusing in on the practice of architecture, was a piece by Part 2 Shemol Rahman. ‘With a neat, incisive way the writer uses personality to shape an argument,’ said Watson. ‘And it is a little bit poetic.’ While material around fees, data collection and education may not sound the most promising read, the article, Preparing for Re-entry, sandwiches these convincingly between news of the Mars landing and personal perseverance. ‘Hopeful and engaging,’ said Afsar, while Adams called it ‘bold and engaging and coherent with lots of personality’.
The commended piece by Harry Tindale, who is at Hugh Broughton Architects as a Part 1, started with the outlandish ideas of Archigram’s Nottingham Shopping Viaduct and spun them into a valuable lesson for a city in retail flux. ‘It shows a theoretical knowledge can be applied in meaningful ways to existing places,’ said Watson. Adams liked the way it ‘painted a picture of Nottingham with facts and opinion woven together’ while Afsar enjoyed being lured in through the introduction and the fact that it ended with a question.
The fourth commendation went to Jordan Whitewood-Neal, a Part 2 student at the University of Brighton. ‘It was an interesting and engaging read exploring disability with a bit of emotion,’ said Afsar. Taking the example of the Architectural Association buildings Whitewood-Neal used ‘revealing little details’ (Watson) to show the uneasy relationship between the institution’s avant garde design teaching and the lived experience of the buildings, and the way the domestic qualities of the buildings are undermined by their exclusionary characteristics. Adams felt it was ‘powerful to flag up these issues; it is an area of diversity we often overlook’.
The winner and commended articles were selected from a strong shortlist.
Henry Aldridge, University of Cambridge, Part 1 writing on the redevelopment of North London’s Oriental City and the colonialism embedded in those changes.
Edward Humphries, Portsmouth University, Part 1, profiling Israel doctor turned architect Neri Oxman and biologically inspired work at MIT.
Richard Mayhew, Newcastle University, Part 2 on the commercialisation of Newcastle Civic Centre.
Wadzanai Chanel Mhuka, University of East London, Part 2 for a tragi-comic break up letter to concrete in the age of climate action.
Shivani Tipari, Part 1 for a fresh argument for biophilia bringing together Winnie the Pooh and children’s pandemic experience.
This competition and RIBA Future Architects Network are designed to support, inspire and give a voice to architecture students, pre-qualification, and early career architecture professionals, as they transition from study to practice.
Future Architects is a way for emerging architects to engage with the profession at the start of their career and offers ongoing support throughout the educational journey.
Read more of the best entries from the RIBAJ/Future Architects writing competition from 2020 and 2021