Old people's day centre is named UK's best new building

Old people’s day centre is named UK’s best new building: Architects praise ‘place of joy and inspiration’ as they award it prestigious Stirling Prize

  • John Morden Centre was awarded prize by Royal Institute of British Architects

An old people’s day centre has been named as the UK’s best new building, with architects praising it for being a ‘place of joy and inspiration’.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) awarded the John Morden Centre the prestigious Riba Stirling Prize 2023.

Designed by Mae Architects, the reworked day centre in Blackheath, south east London, provides care for the residents of the charity, Morden College. Judges said it set an example of how to ‘raise the bar of quality in social healthcare’.

It uses existing buildings on the Grade I-listed college grounds, including an almshouse and chapel, both attributed to St Paul’s Cathedral architect Sir Christopher Wren.

One resident, June, hailed the centre for providing the perfect environment for elderly people. Speaking on BBC Radio 4 this morning, she said: ‘We’re all of a certain age and we need relaxing atmospheres now and it provides that for us.’

The Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) awarded the John Morden Centre (pictured) the prestigious Riba Stirling Prize 2023

Residents hailed the centre as somewhere that provides a ‘relaxing atmosphere’ thanks to the glass, the light, the colours and the gardens

She added: ‘We are surrounded by glass, we’ve got gardens around us. And that provides a much nicer environment, particularly for our age group.’

June said that she loves the fact that it is very light and airy while the colours are ‘very restful on the eyes’. 

Founding director of Mae, Alex Ely, welcomed June’s comments, adding: ‘It’s very much a building designed to help the residents thrive in their later life. It’s got a health centre, it’s got an arts room, it’s got a theatre space.

‘We all deserve to live better in our later life. We know many illnesses and ailments come about from loneliness from isolation and this is a building that instils a sense of community and brings the residents together.’

Mr Ely continued: ‘We know it has forged stronger relationships between the residents.’

The John Morden Centre fought off its five rival contenders which included A House for Artists, Barking, and the University of Warwick’s Faculty of Arts. 

The other three finalists were Central Somers Town Community Facilities and Housing, Lavender Hill Courtyard Housing, Clapham, and Courtauld Connects – The Courtauld Institute of Art. 

Speaking on behalf of the Riba Stirling Prize jury, architect Ellen van Loon, said: ‘The John Morden Centre is a place of joy and inspiration.

Judges said the centre set an example of how to ‘raise the bar of quality in social healthcare’

The stunning building features art rooms, a theatre space and a health centre as well as beautiful gardens

‘It sensitively and seamlessly integrates medical facilities and social spaces, delivering a bold and hopeful model for the design of health and care centres for the elderly.

‘Creating an environment that lifts the spirits and fosters community is evident at every turn and in every detail.

‘This building provides comfort and warmth, with thoughtful features designed to prevent isolation.

‘It illustrates how buildings can themselves be therapeutic – supporting care and instilling a sense of belonging.

‘Great architecture orients people so they can thrive, and this building is exemplary at achieving exactly that.’

The building is arranged as a series of red brick pavilions, which have care and social spaces, and includes a central timber cloister and a large cedar tree – the focal point of the garden.

Echoing the 17th century buildings is a zinc-clad roof and high chimneys and the centre also features a reception hall, a large theatre hall, medical facilities, an art room, hair and nail salon and cafe.

There is also a concealed wooden handrails and built-in seating along walkways for those with mobility issues and ‘high-contrast patterns on the edges of floors’ to help dementia patients find their way.

Mr Ely said that the centre ‘has been a really fulfilling project to work on’.

Two elderly people sit and chat to each other at the centre. Architects hailed the centre as a ‘place of joy and inspiration’

He added: ‘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.’

The building uses what is termed passive ventilation, which through chimneys, minimises the operational energy needed to heat and cool the centre.

Chief executive of Morden College, David Rutherford-Jones, said: ‘We are absolutely thrilled to have won the Riba Stirling Prize 2023.

‘Our mission is to give the very best possible life to the older people we provide homes, love, support and care for.

‘The John Morden Centre, a beautiful, tactile space that has true purpose, sits at the heart of that effort – a true hub of life. Thank you, Mae. Thank you, Riba.’

Also announced as winners is Houlton School in Warwickshire by van Heyningen & Haward Architects’ (vHH) for the inaugural Riba Reinvention gong and Onion Collective won the client of the year award for East Quay in Somerset.

Other London-based locations were also honoured including Lighthouse Children’s Homeby Conrad Koslowsky Architects, who won the Stephen Lawrence Prize, and A House for Artists by Apparata Architects, who took home the Neave Brown Award for Housing.

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