2022 Soane Medal Recipient is Peter Barber
11. November 2022
Soane Medal recipient Peter Barber in the Dome area of Sir John Soane’s Museum. (Photo: Matt Tidby © Sir John Soane’s Museum)
Architect Peter Barber, known for the design of affordable housing in London, is the fifth recipient of the Soane Medal, which has been awarded annually by the Sir John Soane’s Museum since 2017.
Established under former museum trustee David Chipperfield, the Soane Medal "recognizes architects, educators and critics who have made a major contribution to their field through practice, history or theory, and in doing so have furthered and enriched the public understanding of architecture." Architect Rafael Moneo received the first medal in 2017, followed by architect Denise Scott Brown in 2018, historian Kenneth Frampton in 2019, and then, following a one-year delay hiatus to the pandemic, Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum last year.
In its announcement of Barber as recipient on November 8, the museum said: "As one of Britain’s most acclaimed architects and founder of Peter Barber Architects, Peter’s practice focuses on social housing and urban planning. He has been widely celebrated for his inventive approach to design, delivering innovative housing which is both high-quality and affordable. Barber has also developed a number of speculative projects which respond to issues including the housing crisis, the climate emergency, and the revitalization of de-industrialized areas."
McGrath Road, London (Photo © Peter Barber Architects)
Not only does Barber devote most of his firm's efforts to social housing, they do it in ways that are architecturally striking, more in line with market-rate housing than what people might otherwise associate with social housing. "His leaping brick arches, crenelated terraces and quirky vaulted rooflines can now be found transforming unpromising side streets and leftover backland sites across London," writes Oliver Wainwright in his Guardian profile of Barber coinciding with the Soane Medal. "While much contemporary housing has converged towards anonymous slabs of identikit apartments, with single-aspect flats arranged off long, double-sided corridors, Barber’s projects draw on the rich variety of vernacular housing from pre-modern times, breathing new life into centuries-old ways of living that have stood the test of time."
Peckham Road (Photo © Morley von Sternberg)
More praise of Barber's architecture can be found on the Soane Museum website, where "Five Voices" reflect on Peter Barber: London Mayor Sadiq Khan; Ferhat Ulusu, a former resident of homeless housing designed by Barber; Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, a housing charity; RA curator Vicky Richardson; and Phineas Harper, director of Open City. A couple of highlights are excerpted here.
"Homes that people can be proud of, homes that are good quality, energy efficient, and most important of all, truly affordable to live in. And as rents and bills go up, the combination of these qualities is all the more important. It’s not acceptable for homes to be good quality but expensive in one part of town, and cheap but shoddy in another. We need architecture, design and planning that makes a dent in our housing emergency. Peter Barber is someone who clearly understands this." –Ferhat Ulusu
"For me, a great strength of Barber’s vital and vibrant work is his infectious ability to ground his clear-sighted, urban, economic and historical analysis in the accessible language and character of unpretentious, joyful, ordinary life. His buildings, like his writing, embody this seemingly contradictory synthesis; stridently expressive armatures that are nonetheless permissive and generous. Loose enough to allow residents individual self-expression within the nooks and vaults of their exuberant thresholds, yet robustly coherent additions to the formal streetscapes they sit within." –Phineas Harper
Watch Peter Barber's Soane Medal lecture, given on November 8 at Sir John Soane's Museum: