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Bristol City Learning Centre wins PM's prize

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The Alec French Partnership has won the Prime Minister's Award for Better Public Buildings for its City Learning Centre at Brislington School, near Bristol.

The award, which last year went to Tate Modern, is part of the British Construction Industry Awards, sponsored jointly by CABE and the Office of Government Commerce and backed by the AJ. The centre beat rivals for the honour including new Stirling Prize winner, Wilkinson Eyre's Millennium Bridge, which might have expected to clinch yet another award here, being a little closer to Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency.The bridge picked up a 'highly commended' in the Civil Engineering category instead, while Stirling runner-up Edward Cullinan Architects 'stunning'Gridshell building clinched the Small Project prize.

Judges praised the City Learning Centre for the way it has pleased its clients and users, its speedy construction period, overall aesthetic, and its ability to act as an exemplar for other Bristol-based buildings and those in the wider education field.

The scheme provides specialist ICT facilities as part of the government's Excellence in Cities Initiative, a three-year programme to better educate inner-city schoolchildren. This concentrates on two Bristol sites - in the north and the south of the city, each having space for 150 pupils and facilities for community learning. The buildings are open in the evenings and at the weekends too.

The architect describes its two-storey building as a 'clear statement', with its use of materials and its ramped entry reinforcing the sense of a 'new experience'. The building is arranged around a fairly straightforward, square plan, with its central area acting as both circulation area and social spac, linking the levels with an open, top-lit stair.

A glazed, angled projection contains a cyber cafe to provide daylight and views out. Another design feature is the first floor's translucent glazing, which provides good levels of light and insulation with an ambience of 'special'spaces changing in feeling dependent on the movement of the sun or the weather. Part of the design brief was to ensure high levels of fresh air and ensure that heat input from comparatively high densities of children and computers was managed efficiently. The construction programme was a tight 23 weeks, with the initial grant for the building from central government, supplemented by the council, conditional on the centre being finished just 10 months after the design team was appointed.

The BCIA also honoured Richard Rogers Partnership for its £90.8 million Chiswick Park offices scheme, winner of the best practice category; RMJM's William Gates Building at Cambridge was highly commended in the Building Award; and Arup Associates'£84 million City of Manchester Stadium won a 'high commendation' in the major project category.

See the BCIA supplement with this issue.

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