Fashion Architecture Taste (FAT) and Grayson Perry’s A House for Essex has caused something of a stir of late. Completed in 2015, the project was built for Living Architecture, an English company who facilitate “holidays in modern architecture.” The project has been praised by much of the architectural profession, especially in the United Kingdom.
It’s design is meant to embody and reflect the life of a fictional “everywoman,” created by Perry, from Essex (a region not renowned for being posh or cultured) and named Julie. Born in 1953, she died at the age of 61 when she was run over by pizza delivery person on moped. The house is her “memorial,” an “Essex Taj Mahal” Perry says in a documentary on the building.
However, when the Royal Institution of Architects (RIBA) failed to award the project a regional prize, controversy ensued. The decision also excludes the building from being available to win the RIBA Stirling Prize which can only be won after winning any RIBA regional (in this case RIBA East) awards.
Subsequent backlash saw critic Rowan Moore say that “RIBA East must be populated by really small-minded halfwits if they can’t see that House for Essex is something special.” Passionate post-modernist Adam Nathaniel Furman went one further. “I can only imagine what kind of closed-minded, mean, and narrowly dour view of architecture the judges who reached the decision not to award A House for Essex with a RIBA Prize must have, but I do not begrudge them their artistic miserliness,” he said.
Charles Holland, a founding member of FAT who now runs Ordinary Architecture alongside Ely Ward said he “would be interested to know what their reasons were,” and branded the decision as “bizarre” in light of the projects praise.
“I entered it without any assumptions about things like the Stirling Prize but it has made a fairly big contribution to architecture and to the area so it’s surprising that it hasn’t won a regional award,” he added. After the furore however, RIBA remained resolute. “The jury’s decision is final. We can’t overturn it,” said a spokesman.
Now though, the house has once again been thrown into the spotlight. According to BDOnline, the chairman of the national awards panel said the RIBA East jury should have consulted those further up in the institution regarding their decision.
Chair of the RIBA awards committee, Philip Gumuchdjian said that project would be entered for the regional awards again next year. “It’s not a drama. This is resolvable. They can resubmit it next year,” he said. Despite Furman’s best efforts though, “A House for Essex” will not be able to be compete for any RIBA national awards this year.
Paul Monaghan of AHMM, who are the current Stirling Prize holders, also commented on the building. “It’s definitely a Marmite building nit it’s got a narrative and if you look back in 50 years’ time will it be one of the more interesting projects from RIBA East?”
A House for Essex then could still one day be awarded the accolade that its fans feel it deserves. Even before it was built, the project was defiant in the face of adversity. During its acquisition of planning approval, members of the public lamented that it was “Better suited to the far or middle east” and that it would “open the flood gates to other avant-garde applications”.