The RIBA President's Medals Student Awards

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Medal Winner 2009
SOM Winner -
This thesis is intended to expose unexpected readings of the built environment in the future if we don’t take more drastic steps to deal with climate change. Set in the Blackwater Estuary in Essex, the project envisages a set of militarised coastal defence towers that perform multiple functions:

1. The principle role of the towers is to act as an environmental warning device. The architecture is alive, dramatizing shifts in environmental conditions; breathing, creaking, groaning, sweating and crying when stressed. Air-bags on the face of the towers expand and contract, while hundreds of tensile trunks are sporadically activated, casting water on to the heated facades to produce steam. An empty watchtower at the top of each tower gives them the impression that the fragile landscape below is constantly being surveyed.

2. Across the estuary, a bed of salt marshes provides a natural form of flood defence and habitats for wildlife. Due to rising water levels and adverse weather conditions, the salt marshes are quickly deteriorating. The proposal suggests how megastructures can be integrated and used to encourage the growth of natural defence mechanisms against flooding in order to protect the erosion of fragile coastline areas and our most important cities. Over time, sand is collected at the base of each tower to form a spit across the mouth of the estuary, absorbing energy from the waves.

3. Internally, the towers serve as a vast repository for mankinds most valuable asset; knowledge. The architecture is a knowledge ark, which protects books from culminative and catastrophic deterioration.



Nicholas Szczepaniak


In his project, entitled 'A Defensive Architecture', Nick Szczepaniak has proposed an intense and thought-provoking piece of work that is a reflection of and response to the effects of climate change. The work is deliberately allegorical and provocative.

Set in the Blackwater Estuary, he imagines a set of austere and stark coastal defence towers that have multiple functions. Not only do the towers act as an environmental protection device that serves as a warning to mankind of the dangers that lies ahead, but they are also repositories of knowledge, housing a major collection of books, much like the British Library. These 'arks' are exquisitely explored in great detail through drawings and experimental models. The scheme is handled in a sensitive and thoughtful manner throughout.

Nick is an exceptionally talented and thoughtful student; he has finished the course at Westminster with a distinction in both design and dissertation, the latter written on the archaeological history of an abandoned Northern steelworks. All of his knowledge and talent comes together in this dramatic and superbly designed project.


Susanne Isa
Sasha Leong
Markus Seifermann
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