Second Skin – repurpose and reinvigorate a declining building: Enter now!

This year’s Norbord SterlingOSB Zero competition challenges architects to take a moribund building and transform it into something repurposed, re-invigorated – and environmentally-efficient. Our winner will bag a £2,500 prize. Deadline for entries is 22 June 2020.

dVVT’s PC Caritas takes a derelict psychiatric building and dramatically brings it back into use.
dVVT’s PC Caritas takes a derelict psychiatric building and dramatically brings it back into use. Credit: Filip Dujardin

Re-use. Re-purpose. These words, rarely uttered in the past by any aspiring architect, are becoming mantras in the construction industry’s drive to cut carbon and meet climate change commitments. And, at the same time as guidance demands higher thermal performance, issues like housing are pushing planners to create policies like office-to-resi to deal with the pressure.

Some architects have already stepped into the fray at varying scales and to different ends. Take Belgian firm Rotor, which has carved a niche for itself taking defunct office buildings to pieces to methodically re-use the floor, wall and ceiling finishes in new projects. Or at the other end, Caruso St John’s Lycée Hôtelier International de Lilles, turning a dilapidated 19th century factory complex into state-of-the-art education facilities by stitching shiny, new elements piecemeal into the restored old skin in a cunning suture. Or another Belgian firm, de Vylder Vinck Taillieu, whose Mies van der Rohe Prize-shortlisted PC Caritas consolidated and upgraded the structure of a former psychiatric clinic in Melfe and populated it with greenhouses to start bringing it back into use.

The RIBAJ is asking architects to take up the gauntlet and have a go themselves, by entering our 2020 ideas competition, ‘Second Skin’. In our sixth year of collaboration with sponsor Norbord, we want to challenge you to come up with proposals that take existing, dated, energy profligate buildings and give them a 21st century re-boot; re-purposing them with Norbord’s SterlingOSB Zero to generate both a new functionality and improved environmental performance. So impress us; there is a prize of £2,500 for the winner. 

The brief
The existing building being enacted upon can be any one you choose, and so can the end purpose once converted. But what we want to see is a thorough, considered and imaginative approach to that conversion using SterlingOSB Zero. The new use could be residential, commercial or leisure or indeed any other purpose, but the nature of the conversion should be clearly stipulated and will form the basis of the judging of the entry. As part of the proposal, we would be intrigued to see the re-use of extant materials, especially if in new and novel ways.
While we do not seek to curb the imaginations of entrants, we would ask you to bear in mind the nature of SterlingOSB Zero and to ensure that propositions reflect the material’s capabilities.


  • Architect Brian Heron’s reconfiguration of the water tower on Denys Lasdun’s 1957 Keeling House with SterlingOSB Zero created a new home for him and his young family.
    Architect Brian Heron’s reconfiguration of the water tower on Denys Lasdun’s 1957 Keeling House with SterlingOSB Zero created a new home for him and his young family. Credit: The Modern House
  • Belgian firm Rotor carefully removing materials to allow hem to be re-used on other projects.
    Belgian firm Rotor carefully removing materials to allow hem to be re-used on other projects. Credit: Rotor

Take an existing building and propose a new use that capitalises on the original building and its context and which potentially performs far better environmentally. There is no limit to the size of the building; it can be as small or as large as you wish.
Entrants should demonstrate how SterlingOSB Zero has been used in the proposal and how its nature and high strength features have made it an integral part of the design.
As it is a speculative intervention, we do not expect entrants to adhere to current building guidance but would expect ‘common sense’ to apply to the proposal. Any SterlingOSB Zero used externally should be adequately protected with a proposed cladding material. This may also apply to the internal finishes.

Chaired by the RIBA Journal, the judges will look for imaginative uses of SterlingOSB Zero, as part of an innovative spatial proposal that best answers the stipulated criteria of the competition. The proposition should consider the product’s structural, acoustic and thermal aspects. Pre-fabrication or CNC fabrication may be considered. Other materials, including those used on the existing building, may be used as an integral part of the new proposition but it is expected that, in the main, the design will employ SterlingOSB Zero. 
The winning proposal will be the one that, in the minds of the judges, generates a solution that is spatially powerful, visually exciting, reflects the logic of the new programme for the existing building of choice and which potentially modifies, for the better, the context for which it was originally designed. Re-use of the building’s existing materials is not a pre-requisite, but judges will look positively on imaginative or innovative re-purposing.   

Go to

Entries must include the following and be laid out on no more than two A3 sheets, supplied electronically as pdfs:
• An explanation of no more than 400 words on the entry form, describing the original design of the building as well as the nature of the re-purposing. 
• Plans and sections or internal explaining the nature of the intervention on the existing building.
• External elevations, if necessary, denoting whether there has been any change to the external look of the building as a result of the intervention.
• 3D Axonometric or perspective images that convey the nature of the intervention.
• Any supplementary images you may consider helpful to explain the proposition.

• The judges’ decision is final
• First prize is £2,500. Three commended prizes of £250.
• No correspondence will be entered into by the organisers or judges regarding entries and final decisions.
• Shortlisted entries will be notified in writing. 
• Shortlisted entries will be invited to the prize-giving event in  September
• Please email any questions to

Deadline: Entries should be received by 23:59 UK time on 22 June 2020

Second Skin is made in association with Norbord Europe


Two bespoke rooflights help create focal points, beautiful views and a streamlined kitchen-diner at a remodelled family home in rural Derbyshire

Room with a view - Glazing Vision brings light to Derbyshire home

Ceiling solutions manufacturer brings all its technical and product information together in one place making specification easier for designers

Ceiling solutions firm creates one-stop digital product guide

Sealoflex - in its Ultima, Endura and Prima variants - is perfect for new-builds and overlaying existing roofs. Its flexibility lends itself to complex geometries, penetrations and detailing

Sealoflex waterproofing for fast curing and durability up top

Cupa Pizarras slate replicates the original Highlands roofing at an 18th-century hostelry redevelopment

Cupa Pizarras slate replicates Highlands roofing material

Now BDP has finished its rapid transformation of London’s ExCel Centre into the Nightingale Hospital for coronavirus patients, Hugh Pearman updates our story and talks to Architects for Health chair Christopher Shaw about the NHS design guide underlying the new emergency wards

The what, where, how and why of Nightingale Hospitals round the UK