The Water Tower by Tonkin Liu has been awarded the 2021 RIBA Stephen Lawrence Prize for best new UK project with a construction cost of under £1 million.


The Water Tower was selected from a shortlist of six projects in the running for this year’s Stephen Lawrence Prize, an award and £5,000 bursary set up in 1998 in memory of Stephen Lawrence, a student who was planning to become an architect when he was murdered in 1993.

The judges praised Tonkin Liu for the “extraordinary” restoration and conversation of a derelict water tower in Norfolk into a holiday home for a photographer and their family.

Many of the original elements of the tower have been retained, with a new cross-laminated structure set within the original metal framework to reinforce the structure for its new use. A band of glazing cutting through the tank room offers panoramic views of the Norfolk countryside from the combined lounge, dining and kitchen area, while the stair and lift tower facing the village is windowless to resolve issues of overlooking and light pollution.

The jury for this year’s Stephen Lawrence Prize was made up of Doreen Lawrence OBE, Stephen Lawrence’s mother and Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon; Mary Duggan of Mary Duggan Architects; former RIBA president and Marco Goldschmeid Foundation founder Marco Goldschmied, who set up the Stephen Lawrence Prize; and Dido Milne of CSK Architects who won the 2019 Stephen Lawrence Prize for the project Cork House.

“The Water Tower is an example of how an unloved redundant structure can be given a new sustainable life through intelligent design, carefully and diligently applied by a committed and driven client. The effort to preserve and retain as much of the original structure as possible and the rigour of the execution is exemplary. It shows how good retrofitting design can combine low embodied energy and architectural delight,” reads the jury citation.

Also shortlisted for the award was the Chapel by Craftworks, Walmer Castle and Gardens Learning Centre by Adam Richards Architects, Floating Church by Denzien Works, Wooden Roof by Tsuruta Architects and Maggie’s Cardiff by Dow Jones Architects.


The project was announced as the winner of the Stephen Lawrence Prize at a ceremony in Coventry Cathedral on 14 October 2021, in the Neave Brown Award for Housing and the Stirling Prize winners were also unveiled.