In praise of architecture that brings people together

Words:
Eleanor Young

MacEwen judges acknowledge importance of direct action in fighting loneliness

Coming together is the clear theme of the MacEwen Award 2019. Within our disparate society of social media and geographic dislocation, a third of respondents in a BBC survey last year said they often or very often feel lonely. In launching  an anti-loneliness strategy the government has promised that GPs will prescribe community clubs to those they feel would benefit. Our judges were very aware of the importance of even the smallest intervention in bringing people together. This is architecture for the common good. 

The judges gathered in London in the Clerkenwell offices of MacEwen supporter BDP. On the panel were Julia Barfield of Marks Barfield, designer of the London Eye and, more recently Brighton’s i360 (and coincidentally mother of the first ever Mac­Ewen Award winner); Anisha Jogani, leader of the placemaking team at Croydon Council; Yuli Cadney-Toh, architect director of BDP Bristol; and Kathy MacEwen, planner and daughter of Malcolm and Anni MacEwen for whom the award is named. And, of course, RIBA Journal editor, Hugh Pearman. 

They were searching for projects that not only connected people but did so in an architecture that fitted and uplifted. This might be the smallest intervention of 28m2 by Baxendale Studio, giving the community of Stoke-on-Trent a gathering space to discuss neighbourhood changes, or the elevation of a rural form in the timber delights of the barn at Waterloo City Farm, designed by Feilden Fowles. Food was a consistent theme in the entries, from production to cooking to eating, from the farm to commended entry Bridgend Inspiring Growth. 

As ever homes made a strong showing, accounting for six of the 13-strong Mac­Ewen shortlist. They demonstrated a great range of funding and depth of understanding of their site, from local philanthropists in the admirably contextual Sly’s Close to a specialist church site developer (Bethnal Green Mission Church development) as well as proactive local authorities in Barking and Southwark. 

Particularly powerful were projects where a community came together fighting for their building with their architect alongside bringing a design to fit. This was clearest in this year’s MacEwen Award winner, the Star and Shadow Cinema in Newcastle, where volunteers worked to turn a dilapidated warehouse into a cinema and arts centre and architect MawsonKerr sourced recycled materials which give it a distinct local texture. Through the process and through its life this project was and is a collective endeavour that will continue to bring people together. 


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