WAN Education Award 2016 Shortlist Announced

Nick Myall
15 Apr 2016

Six remarkable and diverse projects showcase the best in educational design

Rolling into its eighth year the WAN Education Award 2016 is one of WAN AWARDS longest standing categories. This ever popular award is the largest of its kind attracting entries from across the globe. It celebrates the best in design for all levels of educational and research use, from nurseries, primary and secondary schools, through to universities, research facilities and training academies. 

The 34 longlisted projects were recently reviewed by a jury panel of leading experts who assessed these for originality, innovation, form, function, sustainability and context. The jury also took into account how these longlisted designs addressed the client brief and how the design was used to evolve or push the boundaries of this typology while looking for examples of how the building enhanced the learning environment. 

This year’s esteemed jury panel were: Simon Allford Director at Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, Sarah Ball Principal at Woods Bagot, Maria Nesdale Education & Culture Practice Area Leader, Senior Associate at Gensler, Keith Papa Architect Director at Building Design Partnership (BDP) and Keith Lilley Director of Estates & Facilities Management at Sheffield University. 

The five jury members selected a shortlist of six and one commended project which are as follows, in no particular order:

D1 Kindergarten and Nursery in Japan by HIBINOSEKKEI + Youji no Shiro

This pared back design from Kumamoto, Japan had the jury in immediate discussion. This kindergarten by city style had been requested to provide a variety of educational programs due to the sensitivity of parent’s requests. The brief also required to provide a highly changeable plan where fixed items are not set, as much as possible within the building. 

Simon recognised the simplicity of this project stating, “A very simple but beautifully executed idea for a kindergarten. The building can open up and close the environment and is endlessly flexible. It is also memorable and stands out for the fact that it combines a powerful idea of change with an important idea of character and place making.” Maria reflected Simon’s comments with: “It’s just pared back and incredibly Zen. I think it’s designed to be a blank canvas exactly to interchange, and the kids become the activity, the fun and the playfulness, they make the building what they like it to be.” 

Bilkent Erzurum Laboratory School in Turkey by FXFOWLE

Founded by Bilkent University, Ankara, BELS’s altruistic mission is to provide a world-class, international education to the most promising children in one of the county's most isolated and impoverished regions - free of charge. 

Two-stories high, the school’s upper ribbon turns uphill to meet the gradient, forming a central green for the campus to one side which is used for ice skating in the winter, and a wind-protected entrance and play area to the other. This wing houses the upper elementary program and the library. A large, double-height cafeteria connects the schools together, serving as its community living room throughout the day. Awash in daylight, this space frames sweeping views of the majestic Palandöken Mountain range on all sides. Sarah was first to put her comments forward saying “The views are beautiful. I think that they have really played to the context here with the views and the experience that the children will have in the classrooms. They have been thinking about how the children experience it. I like it.” Maria also followed on to say, “The idea of this project is lovely, the fact that they are building a school for a very remote, impoverished community, for free, and that the quality of this is really high. I think that this project has really fantastic intentions.”

Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership USA by Studio Gang Architects

This centre for social justice is in Kalamazoo and located adjacent to three disparate settings: a residential neighbourhood; the traditional, colonial campus architecture; and a grove of hardwood trees. Kalamazoo College wanted to ensure that the new building would harmonize with its surroundings. The building responds to this context with welcoming transparent facades that are connected by gently arcing exterior walls. The jury warmed to this design instantly, commenting on the quality of the presentation. Sarah exclaimed, “Wow! Beautiful! This could have been quite internalised, but what they have done really well here is that not only is it all looking out, but everyone can also see in.”

The walls, are made of locally sourced, naturally insect-resistant Northern White Cedar set as masonry, which establishes common ground between the differing neighbourhood and campus architectures and the natural landscape, while also setting a new, distinctive tone for sustainability. Maria praised the project saying, “It’s not your usual student building or classroom, it’s a place for promoting discussion about social injustice, and it’s where people can come together and discuss the world’s problems which is very inspirational.” Keith L simply stated, “I think that this is a really beautiful building, I can really see the beauty of this project.”

SOUTH HARBOUR SCHOOL in Denmark by JJW Architects

With Copenhagen growing at a fast pace and there being over 1,000 new citizens a month, the city is in need of expanding its school facilities - that was the starting point for the South Harbour School project. Furthermore the Municipality wanted a new school that is an active part of the new neighbourhood in a former industrial area that is currently undergoing a transition. The result is South Harbour School: a new public school with a maritime and science profile.

Central to the design is the understanding of schools as places for learning processes as well as social exchange. The ground floor is the schools natural meeting place, and is developed as a mixture between an aula and a city square. The public has access to intriguing outdoor areas that enhance movement and play. The concept of the social space addresses everything from the overall school community over group assemblies to one to one meetings between classmates.

Maria appreciated the Danish approach to education saying “It’s a very personalised approach to learning, incredibly personalised, where everybody’s responsible for their own learning whatever age, but then allowing the building to support that in that kind of incidental way.” Keith L followed on by saying, “I just think that the people who are going to be in this space, will love the space.” 

Austin Community College Highland Campus in the USA by Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects

The Austin Community College located in Texas was in need of temporary space so as to accommodate students and faculty while expanding and renovating its many existing campuses. Austin Community College began investigating into the possibility of acquiring portions of a declining shopping mall. Rather than purchase a large undeveloped property in an outer location, Austin Community College opted instead for this rather bold and unconventional alternative. Maria spoke avidly saying, “Ah so it’s a shopping mall that’s been converted into a community college? That’s cool! Knowing the context and background of what these community colleges are facing, I think that it’s a very innovative approach. The whole social context behind this is it’s giving a lot of people, a lot of opportunity they would just not have. It’s a contextual response to a very difficult problem, both socially, educationally and architecturally.”

The transformation of this site into a state-of-the-art academic facility sets a national example for the sustainable repurposing of undervalued civic assets.  Keith L was receptive to this project saying, “I think it’s great, I think it’s absolutely great.” Agreeing with Maria, Keith L went on to say, “These are the issues you face, I mean look what they’ve done! They’ve made an ugly building into something that is very attractive.” Simon also confirmed with, “A very tough reuse project, this successfully turns a powerful, enclosed brutalist box into a “field” for learning.”

Chipakata Children’s Academy Zambia by Susan T. Rodriguez (Ennead Architects), Frank Lupo, Randy Antonia Lott

Located in Zambia Africa, the Chipakata Children’s Academy is the first initiative for the 14+ Foundation, a New York City-based non-profit organisation established in 2012. The design for the new school realises the Foundation’s mission to develop, build and operate schools and orphanages in rural African communities. Locating the school within the village has dramatically reduced the distance the children must walk to school each day, as the nearest school is seven kilometres away. 

The Academy provides a comprehensive primary school education, grades 1-7, for children in seven villages in and around the Chipakata Village community. Sarah shared her views on this brilliant project saying, “I like this is due to the community impact, where they have built this in an area where the locals didn’t believe a school was possible, and that this could be achieved. They also established a training programme to teach the locals the skills to help build it. It’s very contextual and it’s addressed the elements of the brief.” Keith P also commented, “What it’s actually done as a project in itself is quite amazing, because they have built it themselves, it is an unusual broach for their area. When you look at what has been achieved and the rationality on it, it’s really quite brilliant.”

On top of the final six shortlisted projects, the judges also wanted to commend Galaxy Elementary School in the USA by Zyscovich Architects which was recognised by the jury for its use of space and planning. Keith L revealed, “The thing that’s really nice for me is that there’s lots of learning spaces and you get the sense that the kids are encouraged by the space. For me this is more about the educational experience.” Maria also added, “What I like about this is the way that they have inserted and integrated learning throughout the building is really clever. In terms of its curriculum and how it’s being used it’s brilliant, and using the building as a learning tool.  I really commend that.”

Congratulations to all those shortlisted and a big thank you to all those who entered into this year’s WAN Education Award 2016. The final winner will be announced on April 26.

Christina Ingram

Awards Co-ordinator

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