Innovative approach to new School of Architecture building design selection

Photo by Martin Winchester

University of Liverpool School of Architecture students are playing an active role in determining the design of its new building, alongside an international jury committee featuring high calibre individuals across art, architecture and design.

Adopting an innovative approach, the School compiled a long list of 18 architectural firms structured into three specific categories.

The first contains internationally established practices, including RIBA Gold Medal and Pritzker Prize winners, while the second category is reserved for firms with a strong background in building for education or within historical boundaries.

A third category is specifically for younger practices, with the aim of ensuring proposals from those with this profile are able to compete with their more established peers.

First round submissions were presented at an all-School meeting, and staff and students voted to select the nine practices to take through to the second stage. A similar process saw the nine selected whittled down to a final six, which were sent the project brief and invited to submit proposals.

A competition committee consisting of senior members of the University, both within the School and without, selected the final shortlist.

Competition director, Dr Marco Iuliano, a Senior Lecturer at the School, said: “The value to the School is being maximised by allowing students to observe the selection and presentations, in recognition of the way architecture is taught through the open review of student projects.

“The students will observe that even the most sensitive and talented architects are subject to the same process and will learn from how they respond to the challenge of communicating ideas at a public presentation.”

The six shortlisted practices – with two selected from each category – are:

  • Grafton Architects
  • Eric Parry Architects
  • O’Donnell + Tuomey
  • Haworth Tompkins
  • 6A Architects
  • Carmody Groarke

All six will present their proposals to an international jury committee consisting of Director of Tate, Maria Balshaw CBE; Columbia University’s Professor Kenneth Frampton; architect and theoretician, Juhani Pallasmaa and James Stirling’s former partner, Michael Wilford CBE, at a public event on June 6.

Dr Iuliano added: “This is a unique way of running a competition and entirely appropriate for a School of Architecture.

“It gains the widest benefit from the process, ensures a coincidence of approach between architect and users, and is instructive for the academic community.

“Our aim was to imagine the School of Architecture of the future, through a building respectful of tradition, but ambitious enough to anticipate the architecture and the pedagogy to come.

“We identified the most promising architects for this particular brief so as to produce an architectural quality.

“‘Quality’ is something that is difficult not only to produce, but also to judge in architecture: we have tried to clarify it via the process, in order for it to become a more critical criterion for the appointment of firms for future work on the campus.

“We think that this experiment could represent an alternative to the current methodology of professional procurement, to which the University has shown a forward thinking approach.”

The extension to the School of Architecture – the first in Britain to be RIBA accredited – is being developed as part of the University’s wider £1billion campus masterplan.

The school is currently located in several Georgian terrace houses bordering historic Abercromby Square, to the back of which was added a simple, elegant set of studios by Charles Reilly in the 1930s.

The successful design for the new extension will be announced following the public event on June 6, and is due to be completed by 2023.