The winning design was selected from a shortlist of six outstanding entries. This year’s jury, chosen for their extensive experience in this category, were: Helle Juul, CEO and Founding Partner of Juul Frost Architects, Jonathan Leah, Principal of Woods Bagot, Keith Papa, Architect Director at Building Design Partnership and Franco Miotto, Partner of OSPA Arquitetura e Urbanismo. The jury were impressed with the deceptive simplicity of Höweler + Yoon’s concept, which they felt combined the practical with the playful in an approach well suited to the building’s function as a circus school.
The new Circus Conservatory will house America’s first accredited degree program in Circus Arts, containing both public performance venues and recreational facilities. Indoor and outdoor performance venues will be shared by local academic, art, and performance organisations, to further community engagement. Höweler + Yoon looked to the historic circus ring as inspiration, which was shaped by the radius of a walking horse on a tether. The resulting circle defined the multi-directional performance style that still persists in contemporary circus. However, the designers recognised that the Conservatory’s introduction of educational programs challenges the viewing relationships critical to circus. Within this hybrid proposal, where acrobatics, performance and classrooms are equal, the concept re-imagines the radial viewing strategy of the original circus in order to activate the educational community to engage with the public, the city, the landscape and each other.
The jury were excited by the concept’s sense of history combining with a new function. Jonathan observed: “They’ve designed a circus tent, without making a tent,” going on to say: “It captures the idea of what a circus experience might be like. I think it’s fun and it looks like it could be quite extraordinary.” Keith agreed, saying: “It has this really great opportunity to be both ‘The Circus’ and a training place for it.”
Helle appreciated the design’s unifying approach to its many components, saying: “Its simplicity is actually really complex.” Several large acrobatic training halls with transparent ends provide dramatic views across the water of the peninsula. Media spaces, libraries, cafe, and circulatory areas between the training halls are sculpted in a continuous interactive loop, while public circulation is woven through as patrons enter below the raised loop and into the large public auditorium. Franco stated: “The mixture of rooms and circulation enables flows of creativity and surprise.”
The Circus Conservatory will activate an undeveloped section of Portland into a vibrant artistic centre. Jonathan said: “Given the site location, it has to be a very extraordinary building, it doesn’t look like it’s going to fail on that.” Keith spoke on behalf of the jury, who agreed when he commented on the potential of the design to enliven the area: “I think that what we’ve all recognised is this great ambition on what is a fairly un-prepossessing site, and the opportunity to create something that is going to draw people in. That’s one of its real joys.”
We’d like to take the opportunity to thank not only the jury, but all who entered their projects into this year’s WAN Future Projects Education Award.
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