From the Stirling Prize to the Manser Medal, British architecture has never been shy about accolades.
So when I was asked to help the Alan Davidson Foundation create a new architecture prize, I knew it had to be something special if it was to stand out from the crowd.
Through his Foundation Alan left an annual endowment of £25,000 – making the prize one of the biggest in the UK.
He also left some notes before he died in 2018 and two things were clear: firstly he wanted the prize to celebrate great design; secondly it shouldn’t just be about rewarding architectural ideas but about how these ideas are communicated, whether using drawing, film, music, visualisation or other emerging technologies.
We added a third point: we didn’t want this to be a prize for glass houses on tropical islands. The Davidson Prize is about rewarding ideas not fantasies, with the purpose of enlivening and stimulating debate about the future of the home.
But it soon became clear that the home is too vast a subject to be tackled in its entirety. So it was decided that each year the prize would address a different aspect of home, from the kitchen and cooking to the off-grid home and self-sufficiency – we had no shortage of topics. It was just a question of which one to pick.
Then came the pandemic, lockdown and the start of the remote-working revolution. Overnight we had our theme for year one – how can architects and designers offer a positive and tangible response to home working arising from the pandemic?
Although the concept of home working or 'teleworking' has been around since the early 1970s, the reality has been held back by technology. But now, with new technological tools to remove barriers within and between organisations, WFH has finally taken off.
At the same time, the experience of our homes is changing. As urbanist and designer Dan Hill writes in the Slowdown Papers, “The home is now full of hacks for workspaces, with repurposed cellars, hallways, staircases, kitchen tables. There are stories of people making ironing boards into impromptu standing desks.”
Homes are not designed for video conferencing and hours spent in front of a screen. Neither do most have the space to subdivide off areas for work. During lockdown, noise at home became an issue for many, as did loneliness. But there were upsides too – most noticeably cleaner air and fewer emissions in our cities and towns.
When we set out to create the prize with just a few of Alan’s notes to guide us, we couldn’t have foreseen that the idea of what constitutes ‘home’ was about to be upended by a global pandemic. We responded to event with the theme Home/Work – A New Future because it's relevant to what many people are experiencing now. But more importantly it’s a theme that also speaks about how we might live in the future.
- Amanda Baillieu is founder of the architecture platform Archiboo and is architectural advisor to the Alan Davidson Foundation.