Bridge between two cliffs in Cornwall

"Perfectly poised" Tintagel Castle Footbridge wins inaugural Building Beauty Awards

Tintagel Castle Footbridge by architecture studio William Matthews Associates and engineers Ney & Partners has been named the winner of the Building Beauty Awards at an awards ceremony presented by Norman Foster.

Tintagel Castle Footbridge, which sits above a 58-metre drop between two cliffs and reconnects two sides of a medieval ruin, was named the overall winner as well as the winner in the Engineering Award category.

Peter Barber Architects' "intelligent, dynamic and original" McGrath Road named UK's best affordable housing scheme
Top: the Tintagel Castle Footbridge won the Building Beauty Awards. Photo by Hufton & Crow. Above: Peter Barber Architects' McGrath Road took home the Building Award. Photo by Morley Von Sternberg

The judging panel for the Building Beauty Awards led by design writer Stephen Bayley described the winning project, which was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in 2021, as "perfectly poised".

"This was a challenging assignment, given the terrain and the sensitivity of the site as both an ancient monument and a place of natural beauty."

"How best to complement the dramatic context? The answer is not timidity but the kind of boldness that suits the rough and raw Atlantic coast of Cornwall," he said.

"The designers, necessarily, have understood every inch of their canvas and from an intellectual response to the engineering requirements have generated something graceful, perfectly poised, restrained: nothing here is unnecessary but what is necessary has been finessed to the point of beauty."

White steel tower against blue night sky
Tonkin Liu's Tower of Light and Wall of Energy was the Little Gem winner

The awards had four categories: Building, Engineering, Public Space and Little Gem. Peter Barber Architects' McGrath Road housing development in London won the Building Award category, while Tonkin & Liu's Tower of Light and Wall of Energy took home the Little Gem Award and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and Leo Villareal's Illuminated River won the Public Space Award.

The prizes were given out by Foster, who said it was a "great pleasure" to be presenting the awards.

"I like the title building beauty because it embraces the architecture of the individual building," he said at the award ceremony, which was held in his studio's Stirling Prize-winning Bloomberg headquarters in London.

"But it also embraces the infrastructure, public space and connectivity and arguably that determines the quality of the life in our towns and cities."

"I'm also impressed that there's a category that recognises the inherent beauty of fine engineering. So I think it's a cause for celebration that the ultimate winner really brings all these three threads together."

Lights illuminating the river Thames
The Public Space award went to the Illuminated River project by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and Leo Villareal

The subject of beauty in architecture has been on the agenda in the UK with the country's levelling up secretary Michael Gove recently announcing plans to block "ugly" developments in the UK.

Bayley addressed this in a speech at the awards ceremony, suggesting that the Building Beauty Awards could provide guidance and inspiration as to what qualifies as a beautiful building.

"We're very suspicious of deterministic design codes, which Michael Gove has spoken about, since creativity, which is the source of all of this, is usually quite unruly, but planning committees in the future will need guidance," Bayley said.

"What we're trying to do here in this first continuing series of Building Beauty Awards is to provide that sort of material which planning committees will need," he added. "We're not trying to offer modules for imitation. We're just trying to offer inspiration."

Twisting bridge in Leeds
Above: the Leeds Footbridge by Gagarin Studio & DP Squared was nominated in the Engineering category. Photo is by Andrew Wall

Tintagel Castle Bridge was the first overall winner of the Beauty Building Awards, which was launched in 2021 by The Royal Fine Art Commission Trust and is sponsored by property developer Ballymore.

The winning studio receives £10,000 as well as a trophy by jeweller Theo Fennell and will represent the UK at the International Building Beauty Award, which will be held at the World Architecture Festival in Lisbon on 2 December and is also sponsored by Ballymore.

The other shortlisted projects for this year's awards were Stephenson Studio's Oglesby Centre and Hodder + Partners RHS Garden Bridgewater in the Building category and SPPARC Architects' Borough Yards and Camille Walala's Walala Parade in the Public Space category. In the Engineering Award category, the other nominee was Gagarin Studio and DP Squared's concertina-shaped Leeds Footbridge.

In the Little Gem category, which had the most nominees, the shortlisted projects were 69 Old High Street and The Cabins by Neat, Floating Genesis by Denizen Works, House in Leyton by McMahon Architecture and Ivy Street by Sam Jacob Studio.

Rounded building in pale brick
Sam Jacob Studio's Ivy Street was nominated in the Building category. Photo is by Johan Dehlin

The UK's Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, which was founded in 2018, also aims to put aesthetics of architecture on the agenda, urging UK councils to reject "ugly" housing schemes.

In its final report, it recommended incentivising developers by fast-tracking planning for attractive housing. This was followed by proposals by the UK government to speed up planning approval for developments.