Alison Brooks has celebrated her firm’s 21st anniversary, hot on the heels of winning this year’s AJ00 Contribution to the Profession Award
As part of the 2017 London Festival of Architecture, she gave a talk at the Somerset House Embankment Galleries yesterday afternoon (Thursday 22 June) about Alison Brooks Architects’ most significant civic commission to date; Exeter College Cohen Quad at the University of Oxford. This was followed by an evening party held at the venue.
Brooks explained that the 6,000m² project would expand Exeter College’s 700-year-old campus, with undergraduate and graduate living accommodation for 90 students, plus other facilities including an auditorium, seminar rooms, and a roof terrace.
The scheme features a modern roof made of stainless-steel shingle, and boasting a ‘subtle checkboard pattern which is iridescent’, Brooks explained. She added that it also reflected the idea of a ‘soft cloak which envelops and holds this community of students’.
The project also features the striking use of glulam timber and is the first complete college commissioned by the University of Oxford since Powell & Moya’s 1974 Wolfson College. Brooks said she hoped the project would become ‘part of the architectural language’ of the city when it completes this autumn.
Speaking at the AJ100 Awards the previous Wednesday (14 June), Brooks put her breakthrough partly down to the success of her first Hampstead housing scheme, which won an RIBA Regional Award in 2002.
She said: ‘I always say the two main events that brought me and my practice out of the wilderness were my first RIBA award with the VXO house and [FCBS senior partner] Keith Bradley’s invitation for me to join the Accordia team with Maccreanor Lavington.’
Following Accordia’s Stirling Prize victory in 2008, Brooks was asked to collaborate with many other firms, including Stanton Williams, Allies and Morrison and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, with which her practice designed the award-winning Ely Court.
The Canadian-born architect, who moved to London in 1988, praised architectural collaboration in general, stressing the importance of diversity in architecture.
‘Like policies around social diversity, architectural diversity delivers physical resilience, a sense of inclusiveness, and keeps us on our toes with the unexpected,’ she said.
‘Too much of one kind of architecture in any one place is not a good thing.’
On a more sombre note, Brooks’ speech at the AJ100 Awards also made reference to the ‘tragic’ fire at Grenfell Tower.
‘It’s the most sobering reminder imaginable of the responsibility that we architects and all construction industry professionals bear,’ she said.
‘I hope this terrible lesson will increase the industry’s resolve to ensure that the procurement, the insulation, the testing, the certification of fire protection systems of our buildings are never, ever compromised.’
She said that the AJ100 Contribution to the Profession Award was ‘exceptionally meaningful’ to her, as she was following in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Zaha Hadid.
‘I can truthfully say that, across the world, architecture and we architects are still acutely feeling the loss of Zaha as a creative force,’ she said.
Alison Brooks Architects’ Folkestone Quarterhouse (2009)
Source: Dennis Gilbert