London-based Mae Architects has been awarded the 2023 Stirling Prize, an annual distinction awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for, what the jury deems to be, the United Kingdom’s best new building. The modest-sized firm received the prestigious prize for the John Morden Centre, a senior daycare and medical complex within Morden College, a centuries-old residential campus for seniors in Blackheath, southeast London.
Noting that “loneliness and isolation are critical issues, particularly for older people,” RIBA president Muyiwa Oki praised the John Morden Centre for setting “a high standard for spaces that support healthier, happier, and more independent lives.”
“It illustrates the positive potential of architecture to strengthen vibrant and active communities,” Oki added. “This is a skillfully designed package that minimizes the building’s impact on our planet’s delicate ecology, while also harnessing the therapeutic value of the surrounding nature.”
The center's structure is composed of cross-laminated timber (1), and the interior (2) is wood-clad. Photos © Jim Stephenson
The design of the nearly 10,000-square-foot building is subtle; its low-slung volumes are clad with a well-detailed reddish-brown Flemish-bond brick pattern, that is distinctly contemporary while reflecting the Grade I-listed buildings across the campus designed by the likes of 17th-century English architect and astronomer Christopher Wren and Edward Strong, his master mason. The pavilions are topped with pitched-roofs, and several give rise to chimneys, used here as a strategy for natural ventilation. Those volumes fold onto each other to form an undulating colonnade, and a series of forecourts, that serve as a means of circulation as well as a setting for social interaction, and include amenities such as built-in seating and a café.
A colonnade wraps the building. Photo © Jim Stephenson
In keeping with the project’s sustainability goals, cross-laminated timber is the primary structural element here, and it weaves its way as a conspicuous exterior element, in the form of the colonnade, to an exposed interior feature joined by wooden interior cladding. The material, coupled with the building’s double-height spaces, makes for a warm and amply daylit environment.
“At a time when adult social care is in a perilous state, this award demonstrates that there is hope for the sector and the project offers up a model for others working within health and care – inspiring them to create environments that positively impact on people’s mental and physical health,” said Alex Ely, founding director of Mae.
The facade is built of reddish-brown Flemish bond brick. Photo © Jim Stephenson
The John Morden Centre is not Mae’s first award-winning project to provide community care within a historic context; the firm was awarded the RIBA National and Regional Awards, as well as the Structural Timber Awards Architect of the Year, for the Sands End Arts & Community Centre, also in London.
The center’s Stirling Prize win marks a departure from the past two awardees, both of them higher education projects located on major university campuses: the New Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge, by Niall McLaughlin Architects (2022) and Grafton Architects’ Town House for Kingston University London (2021). McLaughlin served on the 2023 Stirling Prize jury alongside chair Ellen van Loon, principal at OMA, and four others.