Making the grade

Monday 19 Apr 2010

Rick Mather Architects' LJMU Art & Design Academy (Built) and Perkins + Will's Kuwait University College of Education (Unbuilt) named winners in WAN AWARDS 2010 Education Sector

This year’s WAN AWARDS education sector was even more hotly contested than last year with another record level of entries. The geographic spread of projects covered the globe and the scale ranged from a small kindergarten in Italy to a vast Faculty of Law Complex in Sydney. The cement between the disparate schemes other than education was good design. Jury member Deborah Saunt confirmed the mood of the room when she said ‘the quality of the shortlist was unbelievable.’

Of course at shortlist level, it’s always more than that. Most of the entries were good designs but of the twelve entries in the two shortlists, (built and un-built) almost all had that little bit of magic. It might have been an original layout such as Luca Peralta's design, which clearly had some ethereal womb-like characteristic created by the curvaceous central courtyard which had the jurors woo-ing. This type of emotion stirring design was summed up nicely by a not untypical comment from Deborah on the judging process: “we really have to balance our interests in the architecture...what it would be like as a user, as a student, child or member of the public.”

Or at the other end of the scale, the sheer panache of FJMT’s Law Faculty with its sleek lines and bold professional appearance was equally well received. Some reservations were raised about its dominant ‘obelisque’ feature, however the stunning interior more than made up for this.

Hong Kong continued to bring strong designs to the table with no less than three entries in the short lists. Ronald Lu & Partners’ design for the United Christian College with its clean lines and confidence simply exuded elegance despite being constrained in a cramped triangular urban site.

It was also nice to see Nabil Gholam’s project in Beirut make the shortlist. He had clearly taken on board the presentation feedback from his service on the WAN Jury last year. The project attracted more than a few comments from around the table about the clear message conveyed by the scheme.

The rare instances of shortcomings were typically more about presentation, not architecture. In specific response to a lack of context on one project, Mairi Johnson stressed: “We’re interested very much in how the buildings relate to their external environment, not just their immediate environment but also the urban context in which they sit.”

In the built category, Rick Mather eventually won the day with his LJMU Art & Design Academy scheme for Liverpool. As a regular onlooker and frequent panel member, it becomes easier to detect the winners in the making. One sure sign is the far-away looks that judges emit as they get drawn deeper into the corridors and classrooms that make up the schools and colleges on offer. Another is the excited chatter that bursts out when a hot contender hits the table. But the real defining moment in a session comes when a member of the jury breaks ranks and stakes his colours to the mast and claims, ‘this one does it for me, this is my winner!’ or some such words. It’s a great moment and often a watershed for others to come out and fight for their favourites. On this day, Liverpool won four : one.

Later in the week, the final battle for the un-built category was a much harder fought campaign, with Perkins and Will’s Kuwait University College of Education fending off both stiff competition and the hostile elements with its magnificent self-shading skin. Mairi Johnson commented that the designers had, “taken this urban scale and handled it with real confidence...this building has real grandeur,” then talking about the façade, “very interesting...self shading screen on the outside, which gives a really interesting articulation to all the facades that meet the street,” and then on the inside, “the circulation forms almost like a fault line through the building, so it’s like a horizontal strata that gradually meanders through the different floor plates.”

Juror Karim Benkirane detailed his thoughts about the design: “The concept is powerful. I am seduced by it. It’s presented so beautifully and the detailing is gorgeous. Its response to the local vernacular is tasteful and the response to its urban environment is amazing. That’s the one for me that stands right out from anything else. It’s amazing how close to the front it gets you just with getting the presentation right.”

For my part, the scheme was awesome in both its thought-through design and its immaculate presentation. Full marks Perkins and Will.

Michael Hammond
WAN: Editor in Chief

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