Irish architect Niall McLaughlin has been shortlisted for this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize for the Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre for Worcester College in Oxford.
The practice was selected through a competition in 2013. The Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre is a new building housing a large lecture theatre, a student learning space, seminar rooms and a dance studio. The project is not simply the provision of new facilities, but also the development and enhancement of the setting of this significant part of the College site. Whilst the relationship between the new buildings and the listed parkland is important, it is only one part of a complex arrangement.
The building has been designed as a theatre in a garden. It is raised on a podium. A curved stone auditorium opens directly onto an oak-ceilinged foyer that extends out to pergolas and terraces overlooking the cricket pitch. The theatre is framed by a high stone screen that rises to allow clerestory light into the space. It is surmounted by a pleated ceiling sweeping down to the stage. It can operate either as a fully enclosed, darkened environment or as a bright day lit space surrounded by gardens on all sides. The dance studio stands at the end of a long serpentine lake that connects it back to the ancient heart of the College.
As you arrive through the gatehouse from Worcester Place, you are presented with a new open court that frames a view out over the lake to parkland. We use this square to connect MJP’s superb Sainsbury Building to our new proposal and to link them both to the surroundings courts and gardens.
The Provost of Worcester College, Sir Jonathan Bate, said: ‘We are thrilled that our building has been shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, the UK’s most prestigious award for architecture. Thanks to the vision of Níall McLaughlin Architects and the immense skill of our contractors, we have a breathtakingly beautiful venue for lectures and conferences that benefits our students and visitors alike. We are delighted that RIBA regards it as one of the best modern buildings in Britain today.’
Speaking about the shortlist RIBA President Ben Derbyshire commented: “Each of the projects on this year’s shortlist shows the power and payback of investing in quality architecture, illustrating perfectly how well-designed buildings are worth every penny and can exceed the expectations of the community they serve. “It doesn’t go unnoticed that half of the buildings were commissioned by UK universities, suggesting that parts of the higher education sector value the importance of improving the quality of their buildings and estates to reward and attract students, staff and visitors, and to make a positive contribution to their local area. It’s encouraging to see clients who recognise the broad range of benefits that can be achieved by working with skilled and resourceful architects, and I hope more public-sector organisations will follow their lead.
“This shortlist illustrates why UK architects and architecture are held in such high regard around the world. In these challenging and turbulent political times, we must celebrate how the UK’s architectural talent can help to improve local communities and their quality of life. “Years of thoughtful design, collaborative working and a desire to nurture the human spirit has resulted in six buildings of real integrity and purpose. I am sure they will continue to inspire those who experience them, for decades to come.”