These Buildings Battle it Out for the 2018 RIBA International Prize

Wadden Sea Centre, Ribe, Denmark | Courtesy of Dorte Mandrup 2017 © Adam Mõrk
Picture of Charlotte Luxford
Architecture & Design Editor
Updated: 19 December 2017
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From a thatched visitors’ centre on the Jutland coast to a post-earthquake reconstruction project in China, there are 62 exceptional buildings from around the world that have been longlisted for the prestigious RIBA International List 2018.

The new biennial competition is held by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and has seen entries from across the globe put forward to become the world’s best new building. The winner won’t be announced until December 2018, but 62 projects have already been selected from more than 28 countries for the longlist.

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said of the prize: ‘The RIBA International List 2018 shines a light on the world’s best new buildings and most impressive architectural talent. Most importantly, this significant selection of 62 projects illustrates the meaningful impact and transformative quality that well-designed buildings can have on communities, wherever they are in the world.’

Highlights include a Danish sea centre that sits harmoniously in its stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site, a grain factory that’s been transformed into a new contemporary art museum in Africa and a tranquil chapel that’s camouflaged by a forest canopy in Japan.

There appear to be some strong recurring themes within the selection, such as a focus on greenery and sustainability, low-cost projects driven by social needs, the harmonious mix of old and new, timber structures, raw materials and buildings that seamlessly blend into the landscape. We’ve selected some of the top projects that fit into these themes to showcase the broad spectrum of structures that are up for the award.


Greenery has been a huge trend for 2017, with the colour being announced as Pantone’s Colour of the Year due to the prominence of greenery being incorporated into architecture. From the Vertical Forest project in Milan, ‘a project for metropolitan reforestation’, by Stefano Boeri Architetti to the green tower of the Oasia Hotel Downtown in Singapore by WOHA architects, there are an amazing number of sustainable projects that are looking to reintroduce greenery into the urban landscape. The Factory Forest by Design Unit is probably one of the most interesting; the entire five-acre site in Penang has been conceived as a forest that becomes part of the building, maximising the office’s contact with nature at every opportunity. All levels have direct access to green roof gardens and the factory looks into a large courtyard that provides a social space as well as a spot for contemplation and relaxation.

Vertical Forest, Milan, Italy
© Paolo Rossellii
Factory In The Forest, Penang, Malaysia
© Lin Ho
Oasia Hotel Downtown, Singapore
© Patrick Bingham-Hall

Old meets new

It’s no longer about erecting impersonal glass skyscrapers and a ‘biggest is best’ approach in the cities – more and more architecture firms across the world are aiming to create buildings that nod to their historical counterparts rather than tower over them. Carefully crafted brick buildings, such as Danish architect firm Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter’s Kannikegaarden building in Ribe, Denmark, which is surrounded by ancient monuments, and Caruso St John‘s Bremer Landesbank headquarters both reference their past while also representing a new urban vernacular for their respective cities.

Bremer Landesbank Headquarters, Bremen, Germany
Courtesy of Caruso St John Architects © Helene Binet
Kannikegaarden, Ribe, Denmark
Courtesy of Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter © Anders Sune Berg

Raw materials

Some of the most fascinating projects that are up for the award are those that are the most ‘raw’. Barcelona’s three Line 9 metro stations designed by Garcés-De Seta-Bonet highlight the herculean effort that went into the excavation and is essentially a curation of civil engineering – what’s on display is the heart of the structure itself, left exposed and raw for all to see. The effect is visually striking if not challenging; there’s nowhere to hide the imperfections and ‘roughness’ of the construction process. Somewhat more beautiful perhaps is the Tatsumi Apartment House in Tokyo by Hiroyuki Ito Architects or Thomas Heatherwick‘s sculptural design for the new Zeitz Museum Of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), which was created by hollowing out a historic grain silo.

Three Metro Stations in Barcelona, L9, Spain
Courtesy of Garcés-De Seta-Bonet © Adrià Goula
Tatsumi Apartment House, Tokyo, Japan
© Shinkenchiku-sha
Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa
© Iwan Baan


The use of this ancient and humble material has seen a huge resurgence in contemporary architecture, with many practices revisiting the material for its durability, ecological benefits and wellness properties. It’s a relatively inexpensive material to work with, too – while the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg cost an eye-watering £690 million, the Queen Elisabeth hall in Antwerp cost just £57 million, with its undulating oak panelling lining the walls. Kericho Cathedral in Kenya was another impressive project constructed out of the humble material that honours the faith and frugality of its rural African community – the cypress timber, used for the striking slatted ceiling, doors and furniture, was locally grown in Kericho.

Queen Elisabeth Hall, Antwerp, Belgium
Courtesy of Simpson Haugh © Karen Fuchs
Kericho Cathedral, Kericho, Kenya
Courtesy of John McAslan + Partners © Edmund Sumner

Low budget, high impact

Another poignant theme of the RIBA International Prize is to showcase those projects that have helped communities in the face of adversity, especially those struck by natural disasters. One such entrant is the Lanka Learning Center in Sri Lanka, designed by feat.collective, where ‘the goal was to create a place where disadvantaged children of different ethnic and religious affiliations can come together through various communal educational and sporting activities, and thus to make a better future possible’, according to the architecture firm. Another is the ‘Empower Shack’, designed by Urban Think Tank, which is a prototypical house that aims to improve the housing conditions of South Africa’s informal settlements and help solve the country’s wider housing shortage.

Lanka Learning Lanka Learning Center, Eastern Province, Sri Lanka
Courtesy of feat.collective © Lichtbildarena Barbara Vetter & Vincent Heiland
Empower, Khayelitsha, South Africa
© Jan Ras/Courtesy of Urban-Think Tank

Fitting right in

Many of the nominees have designed buildings that truly consider the environment they inhabit, whether it’s referencing the local vernacular or even making the building become part of the landscape. This is true of the Wadden Sea Centre designed by Dorte Mandrup Architects – sat on the stunning Jutland coastline, the building pays homage to the ‘rough and ancient scenery’ of the unique marshlands with a thatched roof that celebrates local craftsmanship and materials of the region. Another entry, the Structures of Landscape on the edge of Montana’s Yellowstone Park, is designed to ‘enable habitation without exploitation, and intimate relationships with the environment. They resonate with the immensity, the roughness, the silence and the magic loneliness of the place,’ explains Ensamble Studio. Hiroshi Nakamura’s intriguing design for the Sayama Forest Chapel in Japan in turn reflects its surroundings and looks out towards the lush forest at every angle, yet it is concealed from view by the trees, offering an intimate sanctuary for all religions to come together in prayer.

Wadden Sea Centre, Ribe, Denmark
Courtesy of Dorte Mandrup 2017 © Adam Mõrk
Structures of Landscape, Fishtail, Montana, United States of America
Courtesy of ENSAMBLE STUDIO © Iwan Baan
Sayama Forest Sayama Forest Chapel, Tokorozawa, Saitama, Japan
Courtesy of Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP © Koji Fujii

The shortlist for the 2018 RIBA International Prize will be selected from the 62 entries and the grand jury, led by world-renowned architect Elizabeth Diller (DS+R), will choose the 2018 winner of the RIBA International Prize in December 2018.

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