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Bold and thoughtful Rethink 2025 shortlist opens real possibilities

Eleanor Young

Nothing is too outfacing for our shortlisted schemes and two special mentions, which tackle poverty, environment, exclusion, health, housing, transport, community, workplace and more, often within one proposal

An invigorating 12-strong shortlist of Rethink 2025 has been announced along with two special mentions. Entries that made it through to this level often paired two problems to make a solution or used technologies such as modern methods of construction or AI and apps to tailor or streamline proposals.

The shortlist are Get Everyone In by Benjamin Holland, Olivia Dolan and Katie Williams; Eco-Archi Post Covid by Mark Bonshek and Sabba Khan of Khan Bonshek; Childbirth Made Personal by Sarah Joyce from the University of Leeds; Post Pandemic Exchange by Elle Thompson, University of Nottingham, and Anu D’costa; Window Living by Alice Vivoda and Patricia Schleeh, Eva Setz Kengen and Mark Kengen from the The University of Edinburgh; Streets are Made for Walking by Naomi Rubbra and Leopold Taylor of PeopleMatter; House Farm, Peru, by Kenyi Kevin and Sulca Quichca from the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria; Greater London Agriculture by Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker; Community Retrofit by Peter Barbalov, Edwin Tizard and Flora Sallis-Chandler of Farrells; Village City by Stephen Macbean of Stephen Macbean Architect; Far Off is Close at Hand by Michael Haslam of Haslam & Co Architects and A Catalogue of Regeneration by Andrew Jackson.

There were also two special mentions that didn’t make that shortlist but the judges wanted to include. They went to Studio McLeod for The Thread and Blanket and Home Front 2025 by Juliette Sung and Ivan TL Chan. See the Rethink 2025 longlist.

Judges for Rethink 2025 were: Hugh Pearman, RIBAJ editor (Chair); Joanna Averley, design advocate, London mayor; Sarah Castle, director and co-founder, IF_DO; Ed Clark, director, buildings engineering, Arup; Francine Houben, creative director and founding partner, Mecanoo; Matt Jones, principal designer, Google AI, and RIBA trustee; and Asif Khan, founder, Asif Khan.

Post Pandemic Exchange.
Post Pandemic Exchange. Credit: Elle Thompson, University of Nottingham

Post Pandemic Exchange
Elle Thompson, University of Nottingham, and Anu D’costa 

We are invited to reassess, redistribute and restart in this entry. It looks at changing paradigms of three building types – work, shops and homes – and the streets around them. For work, the entry tackles hollowed out city centres by redistributing space and creating a garden street, improving the journeys that pass them. As retail declines, Thompson and D'costa suggest that entrepreneurship is still flourishing in the form of markets and rooftop exercise classes with bank frontages eaten up by ambitious bakery businesses. The final condition that is examined is that of the much-neglected suburbia. She sees prefabricated extensions expanding homes, and front gardens extending into streets. Francine Houben waxed lyrical on this: I like the imagination for different areas of a city. It is already happening like this and here it looks like the streets are made for fun.’


Childbirth made personal.
Childbirth made personal. Credit: Sarah Joyce, University of Leeds

Childbirth Made Personal
Sarah Joyce, University of Leeds

This was one of the few entries that tackled healthcare head on. While we have focused through the pandemic on NHS staff this acted as a reminder that healthcare environments matter too. The judges were all struck by the drawing and presentation of this emotive entry that drew out the problems of the delivery of childbirth and the essential element of touch. Joanna Averley picked up on this element: ‘The loss of ability to touch has deeply affected people, and it’s probably changed forever.’

Using the coronavirus concept of bubbles that we have all become accustomed to, and the technology of the internet of things, Childbirth Made Personal suggests that the way we design will change with use of lightweight interventions and personalised pathways. Suddenly interior design becomes the heart of architecture. This entry’s empathetic approach embodies many of these ideas. And for the now it encapsulates the idea of the ‘safe outside’ versus the unsafe inside, where births take place. In this new paradigm it gently spells out the new vectors of ergonomics – ‘people as carriers of infectious diseases and surfaces as transmitters’. Matt Jones commented: ‘Beautiful storytelling. New spaces from new ergonomics – that stuck with me. It is centred around service design rather than built solutions.’


Streets are Made for Walking.
Streets are Made for Walking. Credit: Naomi Rubbra, Leopold Taylor, PeopleMatter.

Streets are Made for Walking
Naomi Rubbra and Leopold Taylor, PeopleMatter

This project takes the reduced capacity of public transport and the increased space allocated to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and asks what we could do with this opportunity. It develops a method for implementing ‘Shared Streets’ with cleaner, greener, safer streets. And it starts to draw that out in a design for Holloway Road, an arterial route in North London. Placemaking and ‘purposeful’ streets are a priority in stage one, up to 2025, helping build local identity. 2025-2035 would see the development of ‘inter-neighbourhood connections, in lateral rings expanding from the city centre’ – increasing the potential for polycentricity and reducing demand on the city centre. This is city-wide strategy as much as a design for improving the streetscape. Matt Jones said: There’s a lot of grit and detail and pragmatism to something that sounds idealistic.’ Averley agreed: It’s done with great care.’


Window Living.
Window Living. Credit: Alice Vivoda and Patricia Schleeh, Eva Setz Kengen and Mark Kengen, The University of Edinburgh

Window Living
Alice Vivoda and Patricia Schleeh, Eva Setz Kengen and Mark Kengen, The University of Edinburgh

Through lockdown the tiniest bit of outdoor, or even the sense of it, has been really important. This gives those without that kind of space a chance to have it retrofitted. Window Living proposes a clever window that can swing open into a balcony or a half bay to be enjoyed as a semi-outdoor bench – giving different states of interaction with nature, neighbours and the city. ‘Step out of the box and through the window,’ urge the designers. For lockdown recurrences and rainy days the set up also acts as a virtual window with HD screen and allowing a full perspective so communication is not just from behind the computer. ‘I liked the product response, I can imagine a company like Velux doing it, it has that scale,’ said judge Matt Jones. ‘It’s one step away from plausible.’


Eco-Archi Post Covid.
Eco-Archi Post Covid. Credit: Mark Bonshek, Sabba Khan, Khan Bonshek

Eco-Archi Post Covid
Khan Bonshek

Strikingly this was one of the few entries addressing minority ethnic groups, both as those who suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus and as those who are excluded from much planning decision making. It considered how to address both these issues by showing how community and mayor worked together. It also draws attention to a huge killer which plays its part in making local populations vulnerable to Covid-19 – air pollution. The comic focuses on Newham which has the highest air pollution in London. It proposes making it the green lungs of the capital by radically cutting road traffic on domestic streets and changing the culture round driving. A bubble diagram shows how the removal of cars could prove a catalyst for major health and social improvements – inviting street and sustainable transport to help build the local community; increased space; and better respiratory health and resistance to viruses leading to longer life expectancy. The judges were impressed with how this made the philosophical connection between health and wellbeing and considered the long term issue of air pollution.


House farm Peru.
House farm Peru. Credit: Kenyi Sulca , Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria

House Farm, Peru
Kenyi Sulca, Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria

This timber extension creates a new space between private home and public social space. It also offers growing space for fruit and vegetables – the entry suggests this is done hydroponically. It appeals to the desire for food security sparked by the pandemic and would reduce crowds in markets, say the designers.

Although the proposal is explicitly set in Peru in Villa Maria del Triunfo district of Lima, under the extreme relaxation of planning rules proposed by the UK government this doesn’t seem so outlandish – although the judges wondered if applied to the UK it would create too much shade and might better be applied to the back of houses with reduced townscape impact. ‘I could imagine a municipality funding it,’ said Hugh Pearman.


Greater London Agriculture.
Greater London Agriculture. Credit: Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker

Greater London Agriculture
Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker

This proposition was the most ambitious in scale. Agriculture becomes interwoven with the city, tiny mapped patchworks of food production linked overtime by corridors of biodiversity. Based on this agroecological approach to land use locations were proposed for everything from community orchards to low carbon transport corridors and seaweed farms based around existing green spaces and hubs of charity and research activity. Knowledge centres develop into a green innovation network. Local, regenerative food production is intended to build respect for food, offer super-fresh seasonal produce. Increasing biodiversity and allowing wider ecosystems to recover it could also play a part in reducing some of threats of future pandemics. Getting closer to food production, said Averley, might help us better understand how other pandemics might start and progress.


Far off is Close at Hand
Far off is Close at Hand Credit: Michael Haslam

Far Off is Close at Hand
Michael Haslam, Haslam & Co Architects

‘This isn’t about new. It is a clever way to repurpose existing distressed assets,’ said judge Ed Clark. As many shops struggle this is an unusually elegant conversion of a shop (and the accommodation above) into a home that gives something to the street – still allowing the possibility of exchange. Joanna Averley liked the reimagining of the high street, including the corner shop which has ‘seen us through the crisis’. For judge Francine Houben the strength of this entry was in the little details; things like a generous handbasin right at the threshold of the home, the ‘bar exchange’ between street and home.


Community Retrofit.
Community Retrofit. Credit: Peter Barbalov, Edwin Tizard, Flora Sallis-Chandler, Farrells

Community Retrofit
Peter Barbalov, Edwin Tizard and Flora Sallis-Chandler, Farrells

This proposal details the reinvention of commuter hubs and tourist destinations of city centres as localised centres following the pandemic, showing a new way of living with more homeworking, less travel and very limited shopping. Empty department stores and half-used office spaces are retrofitted with a school, an urban farm, new homes, bars, cafés, collaborative working spaces and leisure facilities in close proximity, providing maximum opportunities for social interaction and chance encounters. It slices through the section of existing buildings to show what that might look like. Joanna Averley felt that it addressed important themes of employment density, and whether that does change – a shift in home working versus going to town and bringing community element into city centre places. Asif Khan could see the drivers and this as solution: ‘It should happen.’ And there was sense of excitement for Ed Clark: ‘I was totally seduced. It captured the spirit of what things could be.’


Get Everyone In.
Get Everyone In. Credit: Benjamin Holland, Olivia Dolan, Katie Williams, University of Liverpool/ UWE

Get Everyone In
Benjamin Holland, Olivia Dolan and Katie Williams, University of Liverpool/UWE

A clever mix of political cartoon, reuse and repurposing.  ‘It neatly ties together issues around homelessness and empty units. It is a solution that made sense,’ said Sarah Castle. PM Boris Johnson is seen pledging to get everyone in and bring the homeless off the streets during the pandemic, a promise that has now run out. The proposed reworking of an office tower sees communal health facilities on ground level, brings nature into with gardens at the mid level and has a plan for translating a deep plan office floor into hostel-style bedrooms on upper floors. There is also a space left for some office workers. The entry text spells it out this investment in social infrastructure: ‘With the government using funds to lease redundant floors, instead of investing in short term fixes, we can reduce the rent overheads of big businesses who have benefit hard by the pandemic and have a reduced need for their office space.’


Village City, Stephen Macbean Architects
Village City, Stephen Macbean Architects Credit: Stephen and Jan Macbean, Paul McGill

Village City
Stephen and 
Jan Macbean, Paul McGill, Stephen Macbean Architect

This proposal suggests a new rural model to revive denuded villages. Hugh Pearman was quite taken with it: ‘It takes the theme of a post-pandemic flight from cities and how to produce the facilities of a town for a cluster of villages.’ It has some important questions at its heart. How do we allow villages to retain their character but be fit for the future? How do we re-invest the concept of localism? And how do we capitalise on the improved air quality and the move to zero carbon?

The village-city would include a health centre, care home, sheltered housing, shops, bank or post office, café, learning resource centre for workshops and evening classes, office for meetings and small businesses, gym or sports hall and renewable energy centre. Ideally all this would be 10,000 steps (4km) there and back from each village – a healthy, walkable distance. And around this centre the proposal is to plant 40,000 trees interspersed with running and cycling trails.  Francine Houben approved, not least because Dutch villages already work like this.


A Catalogue of Regeneration.
A Catalogue of Regeneration. Credit: Andrew Jackson

A Catalogue of Regeneration
Andrew Jackson

This project works at street and house scale and is also adaptable in programme and timescale with a clear pathway, a series of incremental improvements that can be applied when people are ready and budget available. The catalogue has five big steps, starting with repairing potholes, building up to create Woonerven (home zones), and ultimately building works to improve and expand individual homes. Most importantly for sustainability it works with the existing building stock, in this case in inner city Manchester terraces. Francine Houben felt it was well targeted and deliverable. ‘Poorer people suffer the most,’ she said. Sarah Castle comes from the city and approved: ‘They’ve taken a place and broken it down into sets of things people can do to achieve it… People are really resistant to taking cars off the street. I think this project makes it manageable, I liked the softly softly approach, incremental but with the right goal.’



The thread and blanket.
The thread and blanket. Credit: Studio McLeod

The Thread and Blanket
Studio McLeod

How do you remember the heroes of the pandemic and memorialise those who have died? How do you make these symbols a form of community connection? This proposal puts forward a series of objects from intimate artefacts to public memorial – the Blanket, Thread, Lamp and Streetlight as small interventions with a big meaning in the home and street, in the making, using and seeing. And all presented through captivating drawings.

Asif Khan said: ‘It is beautiful and poignant, plucking at the heart strings. It’s a bit like the white bicycles, the ghost phantom, which is a way all of these things in one. It’s a communication tool.’ As debates continue around public statues and memorials these could join the pantheon of ground up memorials, like the famous blankets of the AIDS pandemic, as Joanna Averley noted. ‘It’s about marking things as the world changes.’


Home Front 2025.
Home Front 2025. Credit: Sze wing Juliette Sung and Ivan TL Chan

Home Front 2025
Juliette Sung and Ivan TL Chan

Matt Jones was particularly intrigued by this piece of ‘dystopian fantasy’ which he described as ‘Heath Robinson meets Black Mirror’. Many snapshots of 2025 show a population curbed by months and years of pandemic followed by grim austerity but getting on with socially distanced life with a new emphasis on local food production with a certain sense of enjoyment. Couples dance in distancing hoops, chickens lay eggs in hoppers on the roof to slip down drainpipes to the kitchen, temporary gardens also take over roof tops, urban fisheries run at high level through streets. The Houses of Parliament have been overlaid with the pipes of a huge disinfectant production facility while above them MPs operate in the chamber in the open air. The beguiling imagery repays study. ‘It’s tongue in cheek, drawn well, had some fun, taken ideas to extremes. It has visual power and wit,’ said Asif Khan.

The commended and winners of the Rethink 2025 will be announced on 24-27 July on ribaj.comYou’ll find more ideas on rethinking our world here.



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