April 16, 2021

Young architect wins £7,500 grand prize for sunken Melville Monument

Recent graduate of the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Tom Fairley (26), has taken the John Byrne Award’s top annual prize, in recognition of his powerful speculative design project, Is Our Past Set in Stone?.

In his winning entry Tom reimagines Edinburgh’s iconic Melville Monument in Saint Andrew Square, sinking the 150-foot-tall column into a subterranean cavern, to lower its statue of Henry Dundas to below street level. Tom was inspired to create the project after having been “emotionally impacted” by the Black Lives Matter movement during the summer of 2020.

Winning John Byrne Award entries are judged, not only on aesthetic or technical considerations, but equally on how well they provoke meaningful thought and discussion. Designed to mimic the style of Georgian architectural engravings, Tom’s entry impressed the grand prize judging panel both for its technical execution and capacity to engage constructively with what has become a highly emotive and, at times, polarising issue.

“The John Byrne Award is unique in its encouragement of artistic practices that further vital discussions and debates across all disciplines, and I am proud to be a part of that process.”

In his entry statement to the competition Tom states that his speculative project uses the Melville Monument in Edinburgh to “lay history out in full view, bearing both historic and current socio-cultural attitudes simultaneously”. Though clearly impractical to execute in real life, Tom’s exploration asks the viewer to shift their perspective, “encouraging us to reflect upon our collective past in order to progress towards a fairer future. Our past may be set in stone, but there are many more stones to be set yet”.

The 2021 John Byrne Award judging panel included award-winning journalist and author Alex Renton, veteran BBC broadcaster and events host, Clare English, and Architect at 7N Architects, Andrew Piggot. Tom was selected from over 1200 entrants by an independent shortlisting committee before ten entries were put before the final judging panel.

Tom Fairley said of his win, “Artists and designers are in the unique position of having the skills to approach controversial topics and issues in highly accessible ways. The John Byrne Award is unique in its encouragement of artistic practices that further vital discussions and debates across all disciplines, and I am proud to be a part of that process. It has been great to see my project reach more people, hopefully encouraging them to keep talking about these difficult problems from our collective past.”

Laura Westring, a trustee of The John Byrne Award and chairperson of the 2021 judging panel, commented, “Reminiscent of Nicholas Galanin’s Shadow on the Land, an excavation and bush burial displayed at the Biennale of Sydney 2020, Tom’s entry sailed through to the grand final precisely because of the way it asks the viewer to assess what impact a shift in perspective can make. Can historic monuments play a role in initiating conversation, education and reparation? What do we do with the monuments we have and how do we commission the monuments of tomorrow that we hope will be viewed by Scots, and indeed the world that visits our cities and market squares, in a few hundred years’ time?”

Judge Alex Renton said, “Tom’s entry is a very clever, wise and accomplished reaction to an extremely important contemporary issue – which is how Britain deals with its heritage.”

View the full entry, here 🠒

Plus, take a look at this year’s highly commended entries, and full shortlist, below: