World’s best student projects mark change towards ‘useful’ architecture: RIBA President’s Medals

World’s best student projects mark change towards ‘useful’ architecture: RIBA President’s Medals

Designs for supportive housing for people living with young-onset Alzheimer’s, a sustainable timber building to host United Nations discussions on a patch of concrete in Chingford, and a poetic dissertation reflecting on architecture for healthcare have all won 2023 RIBA President’s Medals.  

Now in their 187th year, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) President’s Medals recognise the world’s best work of architecture students through design projects and dissertations. 

The winning projects demonstrate a strong focus on how architecture can address the needs of people and their communities. Rooted in personal lived experience, examining health and social care and ecosystem restoration, RIBA President Muyiwa Oki has called this year’s projects “the useful architecture we need”.  

The RIBA Silver Medal for the best design project produced at RIBA Part 2 or equivalent, is awarded to Ellie Harding at the London School of Architecture for Nobody Wants to Live in a Care Home. This is the first time a student from the school has won the award.  

Alzheimer’s disease is not limited to the elderly and supportive housing options fail to reflect this, meaning people diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s, often with young families, can face difficult choices. Nobody Wants to Live in a Care Home enables families to continue to live together and asks how an architectural understanding of the effects of Alzheimer’s on spatial perception can be used to create better spaces for those living with the disease. 

On receiving the 2023 RIBA Silver Medal, Ellie Harding said:  

“I am deeply honoured to receive the Silver Medal. I would like to thank RIBA and the judging panel for their recognition of this project, that seeks to improve the lives of people living with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I was inspired by the lived experiences of a close friend, and I am proud to advocate for better spaces which support the whole family. It is an absolute privilege to be the first student from The London School of Architecture to receive this award, and I would like to celebrate my fantastic tutors, faculty and peers who make it a truly dynamic and forward-thinking place to study.” 

Commendations in the RIBA Silver Medal category: 

Nobody Wants to Live in a Care Home by Ellie Harding (RIBA Silver Medal) 

The RIBA Bronze Medal for the best design project produced at RIBA Part 1 or equivalent and the RIBA Part 1 Award for Sustainable Design are awarded to Kacper Sehnke at the University of Westminster for The Council for Ecosystem Restoration

The proposed building turns a concrete-covered site in Epping Forest into the host of the United Nations Decade for Ecosystems Restoration project, serving as a platform for political discussions, research, and lobbying to protect and restore global ecosystems. Made from recycled and upcycled local timber, the building embraces regenerative principles, combining technical and biological circularity strategies, and prioritising habitat restoration. 

On receiving the 2023 RIBA Bronze Medal, Kacper Sehnke said:  

“Receiving this award is such a great honour! I would like to express my gratitude to RIBA and the judges for selecting my project and for offering architecture students worldwide an opportunity to showcase their work. I’d like to also thank my tutors who helped me in pushing the project beyond its limits, and to the course leader and head of school for nominating my project among others. I want to extend this thank you to everyone who was involved in the project throughout the year, as it would not have been possible without their contributions and guidance.” 

Commendations in the RIBA Bronze Medal category: 

The Council for Ecosystem Restoration by Kacper Sehnke (RIBA Bronze Medal and P1 Award for Sustainable Design) 

The RIBA Dissertation Medal is awarded to Chloe Shang at the Royal College of Art for Poems from the Patient Patient \ Finding Amor Fati. Chloe also received the 2022 RIBA Wren Insurance Scholarship to support her studies, and this is the first time a student from the Royal College of Art has won the Dissertation Medal. 

Grounded in testimony and lived experience, this poetic dissertation explores the agency of writing as a method of healing, and the inequalities, contradictions and opportunities facing the contemporary health system, discussing how the design and construction of our healthcare spaces can be changed. 

On receiving the 2023 RIBA Dissertation Medal, Chloe Shang said:  

“It is an amazing honour to be awarded this year’s Dissertation Medal. I want to say the biggest thank you to RIBA, the judges, my tutors, the RCA, and my loved ones for their encouragement of this work, and with whom I share the joy of its recognition. Writing about healthcare is challenging because it is seldom explored or celebrated in architecture school – yet these spaces have such a powerful opportunity to inspire hope and healing when we need them most. I hope that my work may continue to challenge perceptions, and instil enthusiasm, in the future of healthcare architecture.” 

Commendations in the RIBA Dissertation Medal category: 

  • Kieran Lindsay at the University of Dundee for A Project of Autonomy: Renegotiating the Border as a Condition of Collectivity 
  • Kai McLaughlin at the Bartlett School of Architecture for Insidious and Messy Hybridity: Reframing Japanese Identity  
  • Giulia Rosa at the Architectural Association for Going Beyond the Layers of the Facade. After Performance, Towards Care 
Poems from the Patient Patient \ Finding Amor Fati by Chloe Shang (RIBA Dissertation Medal) 

The RIBA Awards for Sustainable Design, acknowledging the importance of climate action in the development of architectural design proposals, have been awarded for the fifth year. At Part 1, it is awarded to Kacper Sehnke at the University of Westminster (alongside the RIBA Bronze Medal) for The Council for Ecosystem Restoration. At Part 2, it is awarded to Chew Shan Wei at the University of Bath for The Udaipur Plastic School

The Serjeant Awards for Excellence in Drawing,presented in memory of Denis Serjeant, a founding member of the 1981 RIBA Student Prizes Group, have been awarded to Michael Becker at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (alongside a RIBA Bronze Medal Commendation) for A Habit of Building: Considering Labour, the Architect and the Construction Site at Part 1, and to Chloe Dalby at Newcastle University for Earth’s Breath: Wind and Wild at Part 2. A Commendation of the Serjeant Award at Part 2 went to Zibo Zhang at the Royal College of Art for Folgelandschaft

Left to right: Ellie Harding (RIBA Silver Medal), Kacper Sehnke (RIBA Bronze Medal and Part 1 Award for Sustainable Design), and Chloe Shang (Dissertation Medal).  

RIBA President Muyiwa Oki said: 

“This year’s RIBA President’s Medals showcase the exemplary work of architecture students from across the globe. The talent, creativity and sensitivity demonstrated in the winning and commended projects reassure me that the future of architecture is in safe hands. 

This year, perhaps more than in any previous years, we have seen entries that speak to what it means to be human on a planet in crisis. In this challenging context, students have dared to dream by elevating technical scale and ambition, by supporting physical and mental well-being, and by tackling the climate emergency head-on.  

I was humbled by the way that students so confidently addressed issues that stem from their own personal experiences and developed them into grounded and solid architectural proposals that are truly remarkable in their creative ambition, accomplished resolution, and above all, in their considerate ethical and social stance.  

The winning proposals are anchored by a sense of creating and shaping a better today and tomorrow – it is the useful architecture we need. For the next generation of architects, designing for the climate emergency is intrinsically linked to health and wellbeing – increasing our standard of living. Theirs is a future where everyone, individually and collectively, plays a part in shaping better spaces for all.  

Congratulations to the winners and thank you to the tutors and schools who have nurtured and supported them. I cannot wait to have them as new colleagues.” 

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