Hadid - Stirling Prize for Evelyn Grace Academy
by David Owen
For the second year in a row, the top British architecture prize has been awarded to a building designed by Zaha Hadid.
The Evelyn Grace Academy in the south London district of Brixton has received the Stirling Prize for 2011 from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
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Like her 2010 Stirling Prize winner — MAXXI, the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo, in Rome, Italy — Evelyn Grace Academy is a bold, sinuous building — an expression of Hadid's flamboyant style. Both structures occupy infill lots, adjacent to historic buildings, in gritty residential neighborhoods.
But unlike MAXXI, which embraces the fabric of its neighborhood quite literally by engulfing an existing building on its site, Evelyn Grace Academy stands apart from its surroundings. The school itself is set well back from the surrounding streets, its four-story glass-and-aluminum-clad form rising above the mainly two-story brick buildings nearby. A tall fence — solid concrete in some areas, steel mesh in others — encloses the school site, isolating even its open spaces from the street.
Although glass dominates the academy's facades, the viewer's eye is naturally drawn toward the sharply angling metal borders that divide the facade, producing a sense of urgency and motion that seems to hint at the school's sports focus.
Zigzags and a Thick Red Line
Evelyn Grace Academy is run by ARK (Absolute Return for Kids) Schools, a UK charity set up by Arpad "Arki" Busson, a hedge-fund multimillionaire. ARK aims to offer educational opportunities to local children in inner cities with the aim of helping to close the achievement gap between children from disadvantaged and more affluent backgrounds. One of the organization's core techniques is to structure its academies as "schools within schools."
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