Wallmakers’ sustainable architecture scoops Royal Academy Dorfman Award 2022

Indian architecture studio Wallmakers and its founder, Vinu Daniel, are crowned winners of the prestigious Royal Academy Dorfman Award 2022

Shikhara Residence (2019) by Wallmakers
(Image credit: Jino Sam, Siddharthan, Chirantan Khastgir, Akash Sharma, Sagar Kudtarkar)

Wallmakers, the India architecture studio founded by Vinu Daniel, has scooped the coveted Royal Academy Dorfman Award 2022. The prestigious accolade, offered once a year to an architecture practice that represents the potential the field has through innovation and pioneering ideas, is awarded by founding partners London's Royal Academy and The Dorfman Foundation. It was designed to encourage and foster global architecture that helps change the world, pushing the boat out for the industry – it also provides the winner with a £10,000 prize. Daniel's take on architecture urges a rethink of the architect's role, and carves the way for better, and more sustainable architecture.

Wallmakers stood out to the judging panel, which praised the Kerala-based studio's ‘energy, creativity and willingness to take risks while achieving sustainable buildings that exist harmoniously within the landscapes and ecologies in which they are erected'. Daniel explains: ‘We practise something we call non-linear practice. Typical practice is first on paper, there is no feedback, it’s linear, one way. But a very definite and distinct disadvantage is what damage architects are causing to the site. [In traditional practice] if a wall goes across a tree, the tree goes – but we don’t want it to be like that. [In my studio] the workers learn and the architect learns too. It’s a lot about learning from each other.'

Woman sitting in round courtyard outside architectural house in India, designed by Wallmakers

Jackfruit Garden Residence, Vengola, India (2021) by Wallmakers. 

(Image credit: Anand Jaju, Syam Sreesylam)

Wallmakers' Vinu Daniel

Daniel, who trained in architecture at The College of Engineering, Trivandrum in his home state of Kerala, practiced at the Auroville Earth Institute for the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) before returning home. There, he started practising, while working on his construction sites. His studio grew from there, officially established in 2007, and always guided by an ethos centred on sensitivity towards nature, materials and craft. Working with brick and mud blocks, timber and other local materials, the practice takes on a variety of projects, always with respect for and synergy with the natural context in mind.

‘We are supposed to protect the ecology,' says Daniel. ‘Who am I building for? I am there daily at the site, with my workers. Are we damaging the place? Because we exchanged some papers, does it mean we own a piece of land? How about the plants and animals? Can we have a symbiotic understanding with all these creatures, is it possible?'

Angular timber building among foliage

The Ledge, Peerumedu, India (2021) by Wallmakers. 

(Image credit: Syam Sreesylam)

The award's jury comprised chair Farshid Moussavi RA; Farrokh Derakhshani, director of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture; Hisham Matar, Pulitzer Prize-winning author; Cornelia Parker RA; Zoë Ryan, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania; and Peter St John RA. Wallmakers fought off competition for the other three finalists, Apparata from the UK, Dot Architects from Japan, and Semillas from Peru.

‘Wallmakers’ work engages with issues raised by the climate emergency with a creative energy and urgency that will inspire architects to reconsider the impact of their work in relation to ecology and the consumer economy,' said Moussavi. ‘Vinu Daniel began work as Wallmakers after coming to a point where he had all but rejected architectural practice as it was being taught. The jury was impressed by Vinu’s willingness to improvise and take the risky route of exploring unprecedented interventions, as much as his insistence treading lightly on the planet. There is a strong sense that this is an architect who is just getting going and we will all follow Wallmakers’ career with the keenest interest.'

House with twisting brick walls

Pirouette House, Trivandrum, India (2020) by Wallmakers. 

(Image credit: Jino Sam)

House under construction in the greenery

Shila (under construction) by Wallmakers. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Wallmakers)



Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).