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Saw See Hock, LSE by O'Donnell + Tuomey

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In a year in which new public buildings proved notably thin on the ground, there was at least one sector that offered evidence of an architectural revival

Higher education is booming, with the 24 Russell Group universities alone set to spend £9 billion on capital projects over the next five years.

With universities increasingly reliant on student fee income, many accept that investment in architecture is a prerequisite for a successful business model. A recent survey revealed that more than a third of prospective students had rejected an institution on the basis of the quality of its buildings.

The past 12 months have seen a series of ambitious buildings completed by universities with little or no recent track record of architectural patronage. Greenwich finished its Heneghan Peng-designed architecture school, Steven Holl delivered the Reid building for the Glasgow School of Art, while both Feilden Clegg Bradley’s Manchester School of Art expansion and O’Donnell + Tuomey’s Saw Swee Hock student centre for the LSE made the Stirling shortlist.

It may have been denied the award but I won’t be alone in considering O’Donnell + Tuomey’s building the most exciting of the year. Without doubt, it was the most experimental – its language of faceted brick planes punctured by obscured windows lacking all historical precedent.

Its extraordinarily complex interior may ultimately have proved more convincing than its street presence, but it remains an exceptionally bold work of architecture which sets a formidable standard of quality for Britain’s new generation of university buildings.

 

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