The Bartlett School of Architecture


Bartlett Tutors and Graduate Win 2022 RIBA Scott Brownrigg Award for Sustainable Development

17 October 2022

Julia Backhaus, Ben Hayes and Kit Lee-Smith, along with the University of Rwanda's Dr Josephine Mwongeli Malonza, won the inaugural award for their project ‘Co-Designing the Rwanda Model Village’.

Image: "Co-designing the Rwanda Model Village" by Julia Backhaus, Ben Hayes, Kit Lee-Smith and Dr Josephine Mwongeli Malonza

RIBA launched the Scott Brownrigg Award for Sustainable Development this year, identifying and offering funding to projects that address environmental and ethical issues, with the aim of enhancing the quality of life in communities around the world. £5000 in funding is available to teams whose architectural research or work relates to one of the UN Global Compact’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals - read more about these goals here. The prize is open to teams of architecture graduates and practitioners working on 3-12 month projects.

Bartlett tutors Julia Backhaus and Ben Hayes joined forces with Bartlett graduate Kit Lee-Smith and Dr Josephine Mwongeli Malonza, Founding Dean of Faculty of Architecture and Environmental Design FAED, College of Science and Technology at the University of Rwanda. Kit Lee-Smith's involvement follows on from his Year 5 thesis project, which addressed material investigations in the context of Rwanda. The group's winning project, ‘Co-Designing the Rwanda Model Village’, responds to Rwanda’s City of Kigali 2050 Masterplan, focusing on the growth of the model village programme across the country, which creates housing for people in rural areas and provides relocation from areas prone to flooding or landslides.

The research explores the possibilities provided by this new housing prototype in relation to local construction material cycles. Thinking about the needs of local communities and future research, their project creates a framework offering different strategies for a socially and environmentally sustainable village model for Rwanda. It will be completed in 12 months, and is a collaborative venture with the School of Architecture and the Built Environment (SABE) at the University of Rwanda. The project aims to confront the climate crisis with an impactful platform for mutually beneficial North/South research conversations. The researchers will present their work at the RIBA and Scott Brownrigg’s London studio in autumn 2023.

The project follows on from another collaboration earlier this year between the two institutions - funded by UCL Global Engagement’s Africa Teaching Fund, students from The Bartlett and the University of Rwanda learned about the model villages and explored sustainable building strategies, with the Rwandan students showing Bartlett students remotely around the villages. The RIBA Scott Brownrigg Award enables the team to lead the research into its next phase and holds potential for research dissemination through a publication - the first comprehensive architectural study on the Rwandan village model. It will also enable the establishment of a physical ‘materials’ library/archive at SABE, where Rwandan students will be able to test and physically interact with traditional and ‘new’ construction materials and technologies.

We are excited that this grant allows us to deepen our existing North South collaboration with the vision to apply our research in a real world context.

Whilst this research will foremost benefit the local village population through a detailed study on (social) space, materials, technologies and how the existing model can create sustainable futures, our findings will also address issues that are relevant for many other tropical rural building typologies."

- Julia Backhaus

The inaugural judging panel gathered professional and academic names from across architecture and the built environment:

  • Mhairi McVicar, Professor of Architecture at Cardiff University (Chair)
  • Simon Allford, RIBA President
  • Mario Vieira, Head of Sustainability at Scott Brownrigg
  • Gregory Baker, CEO and Founder at Ese Capital
  • Laura Evans, Senior Lecturer of Architecture at Kingston University
  • Rajat Gupta, Professor of Sustainable Architecture and Climate Change at Oxford Brookes University
  • Mina Hasman, Sustainable Practice Director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Panel chair Mhairi McVicar commented,

The winning proposal is ambitious and innovative whilst pursuing practical, implementable, and transferable outcomes at varied scales, from regional development to detailed material proposals.”

Julia Backhaus is Associate Professor in Architecture at The Bartlett School of Architecture, as well as the founding director of Flux Architects, and co-founder and Board member of the Rwanda Heart Care and Research Foundation. Ben Hayes also lectures at The Bartlett and is co-founder and director of architecture practice Unknown Works. Kit Lee-Smith graduated from The Bartlett this year, studying Architecture MArch (ARB/RIBA Part 2) in unit PG11.

More information

Image: 'Co-designing the Rwanda Model Village' by Julia Backhaus, Ben Hayes, Kit Lee-Smith and Dr Josephine Mwongeli Malonza