Portland and granite stone beam at Royal Academy wins award

Equanimity on show at the Royal Academy this summer
The 11m long Portland limestone and reclaimed granite post-tensioned beam hanging from a wooden frame on show at the Royal Academy this summer.

The 11m long post-tensioned beam of Portland limestone and reclaimed granite hung from a wooden frame at the Royal Academy during its summer exhibition (read more about that here) has won the CDUK Award for Architecture.

The beam is the work of engineers Webb Yates Engineers and stonemasons The Stonemasonry Company. It was given the name Equanimity.

The judging committee awarded the £5,000 prize for the work that best demonstrates the capacity of architecture to signal hope, selecting the entry for illustrating the structural potential of materials (namely natural stone and wood) with minimal embodied carbon.

Niall McLaughlin RA, Chair of Judges, said: “Equanimity by Webb Yates appeals on conceptual, figurative, tectonic, and emotional levels. It has a beautiful Leonardo da Vinci quality and shows you can do something sophisticated with a material that’s been around for years.

“It directly addresses the curators’ theme, and it has a powerful presence in the space. I have rarely been made so aware of the structural miracle of holding tonnes of stone high up in the air. These engineers and masons are designers who can rival any architect.”

Intended to promote the use of both stone and timber as natural, low embodied carbon materials, Equanimity has an embodied carbon footprint of just 0.25tonnes, much of which must be attributed to the steel holding it in compression.

The beam is designed to demonstrate the structural integrity that is achievable with stone and timber and show that the materials are not just decorative.

On a higher plane, the beam balancing under the trestle represents the importance of living in balance with nature.

Steve Webb, Director, Webb Yates Engineers, said: “We were delighted to be invited to exhibit our piece at the RA and even more delighted to get this award. I love how it sits with Marina Tabassum’s flood shelter. Both are stilted, triangulated structures. One pointing up: one pointing down. While we continue to believe that we can limit climate change by using low energy materials, she deals with today’s reality, lifting desperate people out of the flood waters.

“The conception of the beam was a combination of engineering design and craft knowledge. Allowing the pragmatic and the scientific to rule in the design is what has led us to make such a rarified and arresting object with a real prospect for the future. Thanks to the curators, the RA and, of course, The Stonemasonry Company, Albion Stone, Artisteel and Xylotek for making it possible."

Andy Noble, Managing Director of CDUK, supporter of the Royal Academy of Arts 2022 Architecture Programme, said: “This is the first year that CDUK is supporting the RA Award for Architecture and awarding the prize to Webb Yates’ stone beam seemed the natural choice.

Equanimity can’t fail to capture people’s attention upon entering the Summer Exhibition’s Architecture room. The piece brilliantly reveals the architectural feats that are possible using often overlooked materials and captures the necessity of moving beyond traditional material choices to minimise environmental impact. Equanimity is an illustration of the future that creative design and material choices can deliver.”

Because everything in the Summer Exhibition has to be for sale, Equanimity carried a price of £30,000.

The Summer Exhibition closed on 21 August but there are plans to display the beam at the Oxo Building in London and after that in New York. It can be moved relatively simply by unthreading the steel tensioners and taking it apart.