MAIN-STORY-BREAKOUT-Evelyn-Grace-Academy-034THERE were more than a few eyebrows raised when a new secondary school in Brixton, south London, won the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize for 2011.
 
The Evelyn Grace Academy (pictured on our November cover and right), a zigzag of steel and glass nestled in a crowded urban landscape, is the first school to scoop the award for the best new European building built or designed in the UK. Previous winners have included the Scottish Parliament.
 
Judges were particularly impressed with the inventive approach taken by designer Zaha Hadid Architects, given the site is squeezed into 1.4 hectares instead of the usual 8/9 hectares.

With sport being one of the academy's specialist subjects, they decided to insert a 100m running track under the heart of the building that takes students right to the front door. The bright red sprint track cuts the site broadly in half, stretching between the two gates to the street.
 
The two upper storeys include a podium with a roof that provides terraceswhere students can gather in the morning and during breaks. This kind of innovation comes at a price — a cool £37 million ($58.46 million) to be exact.
 
RIBA president and chair of the Stirling Prize judging panel, Angela Brady, says the academy is an exceptional example of what can be achieved when careful investment is made in a well-designed new school building.
 
"[It] shows the students, staff and local residents that they are valued — it is what every school should and could be."
 
Principal Peter Walker agrees. "This visually stunning building makes a powerful statement to our students every day they attend school," he says.
 
"As a new academy setting the highest expectations for all students, it is fitting we have such an aspirational environment. The internal structure of the building supports the innovative nature of Evelyn Grace Academy's small school system exceptionally well."
 
(Photo: Hufton + Crow)