12 August 2023

MICA projects shortlisted for the AT Awards 2023: Buildings that have stood the test of time

Ashmolean Museum and East Ham Civic Campus have been shortlisted for “Buildings that Have Stood the Test of Time” category in the 2023 Architecture Today (AT) Awards.

The AT Awards represent a cultural shift away from celebrating newness and towards a focus on longevity. In stark contrast to most awards programmes, the Architecture Today Awards only consider projects that have been in use for at least three years and which can demonstrate a strong track record for delivering on their environmental, functional, community and cultural ambitions. AT’s Awards Committee shortlists projects that tackle the retrofit or reuse of an existing building and/or explicitly address issues relating to long term performance, adaptability and reuse. Each project team will present to expert jury at a day of live crits on 20th September 2023.

Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean had had a deficit of space for approximately 100years with the collection and its needs always exceeding the museum buildings and the extensions of a heavily constrained site. The masterplan and subsequent four phases have for the first time delivered a comprehensive set of permanent galleries, a temporary exhibition suite of galleries, education, dining, conservation, open storage and support spaces more than doubling the museum on the same footprint.

Designed to meet contemporary standards, the novel museum space adheres to an environmentally conscious and efficient service approach. The strategic organization not only unifies the entirety of the museum and its collection but also brings about a harmonious synthesis, enabling visitors to explore the space with clarity and ease.

The new Ashmolean Museum, which reopened in 2009 after MICA's major renovation, has been an unequivocal success, and exceeded expectation in many ways. It has increased its visitor numbers, improved its accessibility and display, and enhanced its reputation as a world-class museum of art and archaeology.

Commentators have attributed the success to the following:
-The transformation of the museum's layout and design, which created more space, light and clarity for the collections and exhibitions.
-The introduction of accessible, thematic galleries that showcase the connections and diversity of human cultures across time and geography.
-The expansion of the education and outreach programs, which engage a wider and more diverse audience through events, workshops and online resources.
-The ability to host internationally significant temporary exhibitions

Annual visitor numbers following the 2009 reopening doubled pre-redevelopment figures. The first year saw approximately 1.5m annual visitors which has settled at between 1m to 1.2m visitors. The museum and its new building has prospered with the increase in visitors and revenue helping to support a wider programmes of events, exhibitions and community events.

East Ham Civic Campus

The East Ham Town Hall Campus was transformed in 2014 following MICA’s masterplan for the London Borough of Newham (LBN), offering a long-term strategy for the site after decades of neglect. The brief was to establish East Ham as a major civic presence within Newham and from this a phased approach was developed to bring the listed buildings back into Council use. At the time of reviewing the site, 38% of the campus was vacant with four unused buildings. Key aims were to bring new life to the site, balancing the conservation of heritage buildings while delivering sustainable, flexible new buildings, interlinking urban spaces and improved public routes.

During the design development stages for both the CSC+L and the Old Technical College, the briefs and end users of the buildings were not fully defined. As such the design team had to work closely with LBN to ensure that flexibility was built in both in plan form and also in servicing. Long-term views and potential changes of use were factored in, with key infrastructure installed to accommodate. The challenge in this was to deliver buildings, new and restored, with strong identities relevant to their use while maintaining these levels of flexibility which was achieved through a robust and rigorous testing and design process.

The academic success of the restoration of the Old technical College - now Newham Collegiate Sixth Form (NCS) - stands as a testament to what beneficial use buildings such as this can offer past the point at which they have been dismissed as unsuitable for modern use. MICA’s refurbishment has facilitated state of the art learning spaces, with a focus on maths, science and technology, the building now houses science laboratories and classrooms for 500 students. Learners at NCS benefit from studying in an environment dedicated to academic excellence.

Mouhssin Ismail, the headteacher of NCS, said: “To have students from some of the most disadvantaged boroughs in London win full scholarships to Harvard, Princeton and MIT is testament to the hard work of the students and their teachers. To know their lives will be enriched and changed forever is a great feeling. NCA was set up to push the boundaries of what is possible and we tell our students every day they can study at the most prestigious universities, lead the most high-profile organisation and join the highest ranks of politics.”

The rejuvenated Old Technical College is a unique local asset that is being enjoyed by the wider community again. The building is being used as a Sixth Form during term hours, but in the evening, weekends, and holidays it is home to an adult education and skills centre and café. In addition, the CSC+L has provided the local community with an expansive public library and hosts a range of events within its atrium and café spaces. This mixed education use element offers diversity to the campus and offers greater opportunities for many groups within the locale.

The East Ham Civic Campus in London reinvigorates the socio-political and technological development of the area, along with repairing the Grade II and II* listed structures to perform a perfect balance between conservation, functionality, and regeneration.

Click here to read more about the Ashmolean Museum

Click here to read more about East Ham Civic Campus

Click here to see the full list of AT Awards finalists

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