12 July 2019
Last night RSHP’s mixed-use development, Merano, was awarded an RIBA National Award 2019. These prestigious awards are annually given to buildings across the UK that are recognised as contributing in a significant way to architecture.
Designed for developer, St James, Merano is located on the Albert Embankment of London’s River Thames, opposite the Tate Britain and within sight of the Houses of Parliament, and offers a high quality, mixed-use development, including apartments, offices and a café. The three stepped bays that make up the building contrast with the existing monotonous ‘wall’ of dilapidated developments that occupy this area.
At the base of the building, a four-storey public space offers access through to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens via Tinworth Street and to a café at ground floor level. The height of this public space echoes that of the neighbouring Rose pub a local landmark and part of the Albert Embankment conservation area. The design has a strong visual presence along the riverfront and acts as a gateway to east Lambeth as well as a natural gathering space overlooking Albert Embankment Gardens.
The east–west orientation of the site dictated the layout of the apartments. By placing the vertical circulation core in the centre of the eastern elevation, bedrooms and winter gardens can be placed either side of it to benefit from morning sunlight and living spaces, on the western side of the building, can enjoy views of the river and sunsets in the evening. The different uses of space within the building are arranged vertically: commercial office spaces occupy the three floors above the café and public piazza and 46 dwellings (a mix of private and affordable units) take up the upper levels.
The structure of the building is a simple concrete frame with steel bracing used to provide stability. This allows for the east and west façades to be primarily glass, creating a lightweight, transparent envelope, and enables open and flexible floor plates. Balconies and winter gardens are formed of a lightweight steel structure with colour applied to the soffits and flank walls, which brighten the exterior in contrast to the building’s monochromatic surroundings.
RIBA said of the winning project “The project delivers the client’s vision of a mixed-use development of the highest architectural quality. With its rigorous attention to detail and honest approach to the structure and materials, it is a fantastic representation of the culmination of the practice’s work and has a distinct visual presence along Albert Embankment.”
“Merano was conceived as a series of individual apartment buildings of varying heights that are grouped together and clearly expressed within a single structure. The result is not a monolithic building but a tower which is rich and fragmentary on the skyline. This grand stepping sequence allows the building to mediate in scale from the conservation area in the south and the taller buildings to the north.” – Graham Stirk, Senior Design Partner, RSHP
“Merano is the result of an extraordinary collaboration between client, architect and consultants, and is exemplary of a lot of aspects of our architecture. It’s got an expressed structure, which is practical, providing flexible floorplates for the flats within. The precast frame and steel balconies were manufactured offsite to the highest quality and delivered in a ‘just in time’ formula to ease construction on this restricted site. It also delivers a new public space at the base of the building, reflecting the scale of the Rose pub and signalling a new gateway to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. This new, covered public realm has created a home to a café and civic artwork, as well as the opportunity to revitalise future commercial space under the arches of the railway. We have created a strong and active visual presence along the riverfront whilst acting as a gateway to east Lambeth.” – Stephen Light, Partner, RSHP