Burntwood School, a girls high school in Wandsworth, south London, has won the UK’s most coveted architecture award—RIBA‘s Stirling Prize—with judges describing it as the “clear winner.” The project by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) also collected the RIBA London 2015 award in the process.
The concrete structure maybe a ’50s throwback of sorts, but AHMM’s school is by no means a concrete relic of the bygone era. In awarding the project the 2015 Stirling Prize, RIBA, which is seldom accused of playing politics, has also sent a strong message in the importance public education.
The building was close to not being built as it was one of the last schools to be constructed under Tony Blair’s “Building Schools for the Future scheme”—a policy ditched by current Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010. Education secretary at the time, Michael Gove, granted permission for the proposal even though the scheme had come to an end.
RIBA President Jane Duncan spoke to the BBC about the school, noting how it “shows us how superb school design can be at the heart of raising our children’s educational enjoyment and achievement.”
“Delightful, resourceful, and energy efficient buildings that will benefit the whole community in the long term,” she continued. “With the UK facing a huge shortage of school places, it is vital we learn lessons from Burntwood.”
Judges continued that praise, describing AHMM’s work as the “most accomplished of the six shortlisted buildings” and showed “the full range of the skills that architects can offer to society.” They went on to add: “Burntwood sets a standard in school design that every child in Britain deserves… It is a culmination of many years of creative toil by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris in designing schools up and down the country. This is their masterpiece.”
Burntwood fought off competition from five other builds, three of which were also from London. Those included project by Richard Rogers, Niall Mcloughlin Architects, Reiach & Hall Architects, MUMA, and Heneghan Peng Architects.
With the price tag just north of $63 million, Wandsworth Borough Council’s investment appears to have made architectural dividends as members of the awarding jury showered the building in compliments.
AHMM Director Paul Monaghan said schools should be “more than just practical, functional buildings,” and good design “makes a difference to the way students value themselves and their education.”
“Staff and students have said on many occasions that the new buildings have greatly improved the quality of their day-to-day experiences at the school and students comment that their commitment to learning has been enhanced,” Burntwood School Principal Helen Dorfman commented.
The awarding jury consisted of Peter Clegg, senior partner at Field Clegg Bradley Studios; Rory Olcayto, editor at The Architects’ Journal; Dame Theresa Sackler of DBE; Steve Tompkins, director of Haworth Tompkins and 2014 Stirling Prize Winner; and Jane Duncan, director of Jane Duncan Architects, RIBA president and chair.