Architectural Practice Behind Bridgend School Goes for Gold

The architectural practice that designed the Archbishop McGrath Catholic High School near Bridgend will be awarded the Gold Medal for Architecture, supported by the Design Commission for Wales, at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

Cardiff-based HLM Architects will receive the medal at the National Eisteddfod 2012 in the Vale of Glamorgan on 4 August. The selectors praised the scheme for being “a clear statement of how good design can help build a fantastic school community.”

The Design Commission for Wales, supports the Gold Medal for Architecture in partnership with Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru, along with the Plaque of Merit and the Architecture Scholarship, which are awarded in association with the Royal Society of Architects in Wales.

The Commission, which champions good architecture, urban and landscape design, backs the Medal because it is unique to Wales and draws attention to the importance of architecture in the nation’s culture, honouring architects achieving the highest design standards.

The Gold Medal is awarded to architects responsible for buildings completed between 2009 and 2012 and recommended to the Eisteddfod as being of greatest merit.

HLM Architects beat off competition from almost 30 entries from 22 practices across the UK to be awarded the coveted title.

One of the judges, architect Rhian Thomas, Design Associate at the Design Research Unit of the Welsh School of Architecture, said of the scheme: “From the moment you are drawn into the grand entrance of the school, it is clear that social interaction and human integration have been carefully crafted to create a sense of togetherness in the school.

“The architecture offers opportunities for the students to express themselves, to be mindful of others and to learn in new and interesting ways.

“Quieter spaces are nestled around the central stairway, utilising space in a clever yet simplistic way. The remaining teaching areas break the mould of the archetypical corridor, creating learning clusters. Each classroom faces a shared zone, which allows children from different classes to learn and interact simultaneously.

“Finally, there are areas of contemplation allowing the students to slow down and reflect, something that’s far too often neglected in today's continually fast moving society.”

In addition to the Gold Medal for Architecture, the Plaque of Merit will be awarded to Chepstow architects, Hall + Bednarczyk, for a home they designed in the Monmouthshire countryside.  The Plaque of Merit is awarded to smaller projects achieving high design quality.

Fellow judge, Dan Benham of Loyn & Co and vice-president of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales, said: “Hall + Bednarczyk  have created a home that stands proud as a statement of contemporary design, amongst a series of plain, pastiche dwellings that ignore the beautiful landscape in which they are set.

“This private residence has an exceptional vantage point offering 270 degree panoramic views over the Wye Valley and the Severn Estuary.

“The layout is simple and rational, while the gently curved stone walls wrap around the building echoing the surrounding agricultural landscape. The project is a marvellous example of home design, creating a spatial volume that is so often lost in the design of private houses.”

As part of the Eisteddfod celebrations, an Architecture Scholarship of £1,500 is being awarded to promising younger designers to enable them to further their understanding of creative architecture. Supported by the Design Commission for Wales, this year’s scholarship is being awarded jointly to Katherine Jones, 22 of Penarth, and Owain Williams, 23 of Treharris.

The selectors for the scholarship included artists Christine Bird-Jones and Dan Benham.  Dan Benham said: “Katherine’s understanding of the site from sky to underground was fascinating. She demonstrated a deep and incisive understanding of those who will engage with the building. Meanwhile, Owain’s expression of architecture ideas was incredible, with the beauty and clarity in every image presented a true testament to his architectural skill.”

Alan Francis, chair of the Design Commission for Wales, said: “The Gold Medal for Architecture is the only architecture award supported by the Commission, recognising as it does the importance of architecture in our culture and heritage, as well as to our future and linking it intrinsically to Wales’ most important cultural festival – the National Eisteddfod.

“The standard and number of entries this year was extremely high and HLM Architects were worthy winners for creating a centre of learning, which has people at the heart of its design. Special mention should also go to Hall + Bednarczyk for creating something of true design merit amidst planning complications and the necessary ecological restrictions, to which they responded admirably.

“We are naturally delighted to be nurturing future talent with the scholarship, open to architects aged 25 and under, which was jointly awarded to Katherine Jones and Owain Williams. It’s extremely refreshing to see that the next generation of architects are concerned with the role architecture plays in the lives of users and this is something we want to continue to encourage.”

The Design Commission for Wales, supporters of the Eisteddfod Gold Medal, Plaque of Merit and Architecture Scholarship, will host a reception on 6 August in partnership with the Royal Society of Architects in Wales, to recognise the quality of design in Wales and to celebrate the winners of the 2012 Gold Medal, Plaque of Merit and Scholarship.  This will be attended by John Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development.

The reception will take place in a specially commissioned Pavilion, the result of a Royal Society of Architecture Wales (RSAW) and Design Circle design competition, situated on Y Maes at the Eisteddfod in close proximity to Y Lle Celf.  The National Eisteddfod Architecture Pavilion was designed by Cardiff-based practice, CoombsJones: Architects + Makers.

This year, for the first time the Design Commission, has invited Rhian Thomas to curate a small exhibition of work celebrating this year’s entries and winners, which will be housed in Y Lle Celf on Y Maes.

In supporting an exhibition drawn together by a guest curator the Commission aims to increase the profile of architecture at the Eisteddfod and help to communicate its richness and quality to the wider public.