Energy efficiency is a priority this year as a railway station, visitor centre, social housing project and opera house vie for the RIBA award for British building of the year
A house made of cork will go up against a whisky distillery and one of the busiest stations in the UK to be named building of the year in the most interesting and varied Stirling prize shortlist for some time. They are joined on the list, which celebrates innovation in British architecture, by a new visitor centre for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, an opera house inserted into a 17th-century stable block in Leicestershire and an exemplary development of low-energy council housing in Norwich.
Energy efficiency rightfully looms large on this years’s list, following the recent launch of Architects Declare, a call to arms from a large group of previous Stirling prize winners for an urgent “paradigm shift” to ditch carbon-hungry practices. The Cork House in Berkshire, designed by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, offers one such alternative. Built from expanded cork blocks, made using waste from the cork stopper industry, the structure is carbon negative and will emit next to zero carbon over its lifespan; it is also designed for disassembly and reuse. The exposed cork walls and engineered timber create a cosy interior space that feels burrowed from the ground, lit from above by a row of funnel-shaped roof lights. It was described by RIBA judges as “a noble, momentous model to aspire to”, and its innovations could be scaled up.