UCL News


Bartlett architect honoured by RIBA

25 January 2021

Richard Beckett, Research Associate and Lecturer in the Bartlett School of Architecture, has won the RIBA President’s Medal for Research 2020.

Richard Beckett

In addition to being named the overall winner, his project, ‘Probiotic Design’, also came first in the Design and Technical Category, of the annual RIBA research awards In it he explores the microbial world using different environments, materials and scales to develop and test prototype building elements designed to support the growth of beneficial bacteria.

The RIBA awards celebrate excellence in research across architecture and the built environment, and spotlight the need for research across the profession to nurture innovation and strategic thinking.

Mr Beckett’s research looks at how and why we might reintroduce probiotics – or good bacteria – into our built environment, a lack of which has been linked to increasing numbers of chronic and autoimmune illnesses in modern cities.

‘Probiotic Design’ challenges modern approaches to designing healthy buildings which assume fewer microbes to be the default healthy condition. Looking at the three main carriers of microbes in buildings – air, water and surfaces – the project questions how these can be manipulated to hold beneficial microbes.

“There is a risk that the current pandemic exacerbates our preference to further separate ourselves from the non-human microbial world which could result in unintended, longer term public health problems,” explained Mr Beckett.

“Future cities should value human and non-human agency and architects will need to work with experts from non-traditional fields including microbiologists, virologists and environmental engineers towards creating healthy and resilient built environments.”

Mr Beckett used an interdisciplinary approach between microbiology and architecture to develop living materials embedded with beneficial bacteria for buildings to create a healthier indoor microbiome, following evidence suggesting that missing microbes could be a factor in the emergence of chronic and autoimmune illnesses in developed cities.

Commenting on Richard Beckett’s research and award, a spokesperson for RIBA, said: “This highly pertinent piece of work is a great example of the value of multidisciplinary collaboration and demonstrates the benefits of architects reaching beyond their usual horizons to engage with, what might otherwise seem, unrelated professions.”

This year three other projects from The Bartlett School of Architecture made the shortlist for the President’s Award for Research in three out of the four categories (history and theory; cities and community; design and technical; climate change).



  • Credit: Richard Beckett


Media contact

Kate Corry

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 6995

Email: k.corry [at] ucl.ac.uk