London-based studio Caruso St. John Architects has been named as the 2016 RIBA Stirling Prize winners. The firm claimed the UK’s most coveted architecture award for their Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall, south London. In doing so they saw off competition from Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron for their Blavatnik School of Government building at Oxford University, among four others.

Established in 1990, Caruso St John was formed by Adam Caruso and Peter St John in London. This is the first time the studio has won the RIBA Stirling Prize, despite being shortlisted twice before: A decade ago for their Brick House in west London and in 2000, for the New Art Gallery in Walsall, near Birmingham.

(Courtesy Hélène Binet)

(Courtesy Hélène Binet)

Their design for the Newport Street Gallery was a conversion project that saw the conversion of three listed industrial Victorian buildings located on the banks of a nearby railway line. The buildings were once carpentry and scenery painting workshops for West End theatres. Now, however, two new buildings—both brick structures emulating their counterparts—have been erected either side together are part of a free public gallery for the esteemed British artist Damien Hirst.

One of the new builds features a serrated rooftop, allowing the gallery to be distinguishable among the mid-rise south London skyline to those passing by by rail. Other notable additions include large LED panels, also found on the railway line side. Inside, one can find the interior spaces linked across the five buildings by continuous passageways. Spiral staircases, worth walking to for their elegant design, are located at either end. This arrangement facilitates the creation of a diverse range of spaces with small-scale individual works and larger shows able to be housed within the gallery.

Loyn & Co's private dwelling in west England. (Courtesy Charles Hosea)

Loyn & Co’s private dwelling in west England. (Courtesy Charles Hosea)

Before RIBA unveiled Caruso St. John as the winners, members of the public were also given the chance to vote for their favorite from the shortlist of six. In this unofficial competition, Loyn & Co’s Outhouse (located in Forest of Dean near the border of England and Wales) won. The RIBA judges, however, had other ideas. These were their comments in a press release:

This highly accomplished and expertly detailed art gallery is a bold and confident contribution to the best of UK architecture. Caruso St John’s approach to conservation is irreverent yet sensitive and achieves a clever solution that expresses a poetic juxtaposition of old and new.

The collection of buildings is beautifully curated, pulled together by the use of brick yet still expressive of their individuality. The playful use of LED technology gives a contemporary addition to the façade. 

Internally, the five buildings are connected as a continuous and coherent sequence of light filled gallery spaces. The simple and logical circulation is enlivened by exquisitely detailed and sensuous staircases.

The building’s program was also cause for comment, with the free gallery being praised as a “generous asset to an evolving community.”

Meanwhile, Peter St John, a partner at the winning firm said at the awards ceremony:

It’s rare for architects to be given the opportunity to realise a personal vision of the quality of the Newport Street Gallery, and for that vision to have a generous public dimension. We see the building as a palace for direct, intimate and luxurious encounters with contemporary art, and we are very pleased that this award will bring more people to see this extraordinary collection.

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