Lauded as a “modern day Machu Picchu” by judges, Irish firm Grafton Architects has won the inaugural RIBA International Prize for their Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (University of Engineering and Technology, known as “UTEC”) building in Peru. The Dublin-based practice saw off competition from Zaha Hadid Architects, Foster+Partners, David Chipperfield, Nicholas Grimshaw, Shigeru Ban, and this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize winner Caruso St John.

“Grafton Architects have created an innovative new model for a university campus that is highly responsive to its local environment and community,” said RIBA president Jane Duncan. “The concept of a ‘vertical campus’ defies convention, as does the mix of open and enclosed spaces, but both are key to the success of this building visually and spatially.”

The Dublin firm worked alongside local studio Shell Arquitectos on the design for UTEC, which echoes South American brutalist vernacular and the dramatic topography of the site. Contrary to its external aesthetic, the building is home to a myriad of open and visually connected spaces (especially circulatory ones) that work in tandem with the site’s climate. In fact, the only closed spaces are classrooms, offices, laboratories, lecture theaters, seminar rooms, and toilets. As a result, campus social life can take place in the open air, encased by terracing yet on display to those passing through. UTEC officially opened in April 2015 and, according to RIBA, it is the “culmination of years of spatial and formal experimentation by Grafton Architects.”

RIBA‘s “International Prize” is the first from the architectural body that is open to any qualified architect in the world. This year’s jury saw esteemed architects Richard Rogers and Kunlé Adeyemi form a five member strong judging panel. According to RIBA, the new prize is “awarded to the most transformative building of the year which demonstrates visionary, innovative thinking, excellence of execution, and makes a distinct contribution to its users and to its physical context.”

UTEC was selected as the winner of the 2016 RIBA International Prize from the following outstanding shortlisted entries:

  • Arquipelago Contemporary Arts Centre, Menos é Mais, Arquitectos Associados with João Mendes Ribeiro Arquitecto, Lda
  • Heydar Aliyev Centre, Zaha Hadid Architects with DiA Holding
  • Museo Jumex, David Chipperfield Architects with Taller Abierto de Arquitectura y Urbanismo (TAAU)
  • Stormen Concert Hall, Theatre and Public Library, DRDH Architects
  • The Ring of Remembrance, International WWI Memorial of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, Agence d’architecture Philippe Prost (AAPP)

The awarding jury also made the following (collective) comments:

Sitting on the border of two residential districts in Lima, in section UTEC perches tantalizingly on the edge of a ravine. Seen from across the ravine it is as bold and as pure a statement of the symbiosis between architecture and engineering as could be imagined; a piece of geology imposed on its pivotal site, mirroring the organic curve of the landscape and accommodating itself in the city. To its close neighbours, it is a series of landscaped terraces with clefts, overhangs and grottos, a modern day Machu Picchu.

UTEC has been designed to encourage its students to interact in a unique way with the building. The vertical structure provides open circulation and meeting spaces in a succession of platforms that compose the ‘frame’ of the building; teaching rooms, laboratories and offices are enclosed, inserted into and suspended from the exposed concrete structure. The frame is a device providing shade, a place of rich spatial exuberance and a platform from which to view the life of the city. The entire life of this vertical campus is on full display to the people of Lima.

UTEC is the culmination of years of experimentation by Grafton Architects. In this building they show the mastery of their craft, gifting Lima with a bold yet considerate contribution to the city and a visionary, world-class building.

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