Edition 2015

European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture - Mies van der Rohe Award 2015. Jury Proceedings

Individual and collective values: the jury at work

In the evaluation process of an important award like the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture - Mies van der Rohe Award one, the jury was called to observe and judge the architectural quality of projects which were very different in their program, context, scale, and cultural milieu. This process has been at moments quite difficult and even painful, since the quality of the selected projects was already very high. We all thought that good architecture should be animated by an intrinsic quality, but it also has to be able to dialog with a wider audience, and reach an accomplished relationship between the values expressed by the client, the architect's research and the society at large.
We all feel that in this moment Europe needs to reflect on the relationship between its rich and varied heritage and the great changes the environments and societies are going through.

Beside the great differences still existing between different parts of Europe, we can recognize a common feeling that is so strong to be almost unconscious: the idea that the act of design, beside its necessary response to its functional and economic conditions, should enhance the comfort, the degree of social interaction, and the cultural life of its users; in other words, the conviction that any architecture, even if responding to a private commission, has a degree of public relevance in giving form to the collective space and the common good.

This attitude marks in a deep way the political and human experience of Europe over the centuries. Marsilio Ficino used to talk about "the city of stone" and "the city of people", seeing each one of the two as impossible to exist without the other; the root of words such as "civic" (which from the Latin "civitas") and "urbanity" (which in English is synonymous of "virtuous social manners") shows how deeply our experience of space cannot be divided from this shared dimension.
In past or recent history, cultural and technical advancements always crossed national borders. This cultural dialogue at many levels generated another character of European architecture: the capacity to rely on strong intellectual principles, but also to adapt to specific situations, needs and customs, and different geographical contexts. Between the danger of reducing architecture to a pure technical procedure or a simple formal invention, we find that the world "interpretation" defines well the critical attitude of European architecture.

We think that all the shortlisted projects, although quite different from each other, showed in a clear and uncompromising way this critical, "interpretative" attitude.
The five finalists and the winner of the 2015 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture - Mies van der Rohe Award have been chosen because of their capacity of doing a number of things: to read and transform their context, which is often very complex and precious; to generate a symbiosis between the new and the existing, and between their function and the public realm; to transform physical, economic or technical constraints into resources; to create a series of spaces appreciated by the users, shaping a welcoming meeting place; and finally, to be able to constitute a bold architectural statement, enabling a dialogue between the evolution of a discipline and the parallel evolution of the values and needs of society.

After a long work and a collective discussion which greatly enriched us, the jury selected these five projects, which all represent in our eyes marvelous examples of the capability of contemporary architecture to fulfill all the goals stated above.
It was very important for us to visit the final projects in their real context, to appreciate their physical reality moving through them, to watch them in their daily life, to speak with their clients and users, and finally to hear the designers explain their conception, goals and values in their public audition. The final choice was a very difficult one, because our visit confirmed the quality of the selected projects, each responding in a very precise way to their specific conditions. We hope you can share with us the great appreciation we had of these works.

Ravensburg Art Museum, Ravensburg, Germany
Lederer Ragnarsdóttir Oei
A brick mass reinforcing the existing fabric of a medieval town
The competition winning design for this art museum activates a "critical reconstruction" of an existing lot facing the green slope leading up to a 12th century castle. Two rectangles in plan – one hosting the main galleries and basement services, the other protruding to house the linear stair that connects the three public levels – collaborate to generate the sculptured mass of a volume faced by a rich texture of previously used bricks; the waving contour of its upper parapet corresponds with the load-bearing brick vaults of the upper hall, and resonates with the silhouette of the surrounding historical buildings without directly imitating their rooflines.
The symmetrical plan is modified responding to two specific edge conditions: a diagonal cut at the ground level solving the street corner, and a small but welcoming open-air patio screening the entrance from the street. Further carefully-designed details – open copper drainpipes on the facades, a concrete reception desk, a top-lit "light-chamber" behind it, custom light fixtures – add a "handcrafted" feeling to the sequence of spaces hosting temporary art exhibitions.
The project is a successful example of how to graft a contemporary building into the delicate fabric of a small European city, enhancing its cultural life while endorsing a sympathetic symbiosis of the contemporary and the historic.

Danish Maritime Museum, Helsingør, Denmark
BIG- Bjarke Ingels Group
A learning path around the existing void of a dry dock
Two contrasting realities – the remains of a dry-dock basin for repairing ships and the imposing profile of the nearby Kronborg castle – generated the brief of a design competition prohibiting new structures above ground level. The strong conceptual gesture of this project reverses these constraints interpreting them as resources, transforming the existing ship-shaped void as a source of light and a new collective outdoor space for the fair season. Three transparent bridges span across the existing concrete retaining walls, left in their original battered state as a gigantic exhibition piece of the new maritime museum. The bridges contain the space for the temporary exhibits and an open auditorium, while the main narration of the museum wraps around the void gently ramping down from the level of the public space to the base of the basin. The design of the public ground level is punctuated by granite bollard-shaped benches spelling hidden Morse code messages. Its geometry connects the new museum to the existing paths along the bastion fortifications, while the roof of the bridges acts as an entrance ramp to the museum. The peculiarities of the site have forced a "faceless" project to exploit all the resources of the tight given conditions, uncompromisingly charging the existing void with new intensity and new uses, creating a new public landscape and meeting space.

Antinori Winery, Bargino, San Casciano Val di Pesa, Florence, Italy
Archea Associati
An excavated contour line framing the Tuscan landscape
All the different activities of a modern winery – the collection of the grapes, their fermenting in barrels, bottling and packaging – plus all the services needed today for this centuries-old enterprise – offices, a factory shop, a wine-tasting school, a cafeteria – are hosted in a series of spaces held together by the idea of transforming the hilly topography of the site embedding the large program into the soft clay: an architectural infrastructure pursuing innovation while preserving the delicate landscape. Two horizontal cuts in the existing slope follow the contour lines, shading with their deep overhangs the various levels beneath. All the different activities are located in relation to their need for natural light and air, their climatic requirements and their functional inter-relations. Large cellars housing the barrels are covered by vaulted ceilings in hung terracotta tiles, interior common spaces are faced in roughened oak slats, while the rusted Cor-ten steel of the exposed parts melts together with the hues of the surrounding ground.
The project responds in an innovative way to the goal of maintaining the Italian landscape as a living workplace – an active event site more than a frozen tourist's Arcadia - reaching a new equilibrium between human settlements, the sophisticated culture of fine wines and their natural environment.

Philharmonic Hall Szczecin, Szczecin, Poland
Barozzi/Veiga (Studio A4 collaborator)
A contemporary public forum animates the cultural life of an evolving city
The extensive bombing of Szczecin during WWII destroyed not only its main monuments, but also a large part of the urban structure of the city. The project is the winning entry of an international open competition for the design of a new Philharmonic complex on the site of the old one. Public expectations charged the program not only with a number of integrated functions – a large hall for symphonic music and a smaller one for chamber music, a grand foyer with upper level exposition spaces – but also with a new symbolic role. The series of pitched gables which crowns the rectangular complex of the new building dialogues well with the silhouette of the nearby Castle. On the facades, an array of white metal mullions, gently tapering toward the top, unifies the broken geometry of the volumes and amplifies the course of the sun in the different hours of the day, while in the night the whole building spreads its light on the surrounding streets. The main symphony hall is clad with triangular wooden acoustic panels gilded with gold leaf. A large hall with the cafeteria and two grand open stairs take the role of a new covered square in the cold seasons, while multi-functional rooms wrap around the concert halls, offering new chances for cultural and leisure events. The project finds a convincing formal and spatial strategy for a city which strives for a better future in a fast changing economy and social patterns, delivering a dignity to urban life and the same time enhancing the city's specific historical identity with a contemporary "monument".

Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, London School of Economics, London, UK
A brick backdrop and focussing magnet for a lively urban campus
The London School of Economics is located in the dense matrix of central London. Its growing need of space has invaded existing buildings, and the extremely varied student population needed a new meeting place. The site is a small leftover between the remains of a medieval street pattern and the later urban surgery of Kingsway. The competition winning entry responds to the tightness of the parcel by going vertical, wrapping together the rich mix of functions inside a faceted brick skin. The folds determined by the prescribed setbacks create a new open-air public space gathering the different sight lines and the paths of students. The triangular geometry of the large brick screen animates the cityscape; its main concavity is furnished with light-carrying benches and a large glass canopy welcoming the students. A "narrative" vertical circulation leads from the underground dance hall to the different activities on the various levels: a gym, a multi-confessional meditation space, a cafeteria, a dance school and a rooftop terrace overlooking London's characteristic skyline. The structural scheme alternates a tight array of steel columns with long-span ribbed concrete slabs, giving rhythm to the sequence of peaceful and active spaces.
Complementing the more institutional teaching spaces of the campus, the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre offers a warm and welcoming meeting place, and a mature, convincing and profound architectural statement.

The 2015 winning project, the Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin by Barozzi/Veiga (with the collaboration of Studio A4) finds a convincing formal and spatial strategy for a city which strives for a better future in a fast changing economy and social patterns, delivering a dignity to urban life and the same time enhancing the city's specific historical identity with a contemporary "monument". The wonderful acoustic effects of the halls, which were experienced by the jury members, are also one of the most important aspects of the concert hall's success.

The Emerging Architect Prize was awarded to the Luz House in Cilleros (Caceres, Spain) by ARQUITECTURA–G. It was described as a contemporary dwelling environment using existing resources. It is an extremely low-budget project built inside the stone party walls of an existing structure in a small village. The designers understood well its constructive and economic constraints and the heritage value of the village whose population is rapidly decreasing.
A direct dialogue with the client, Mrs. Luz, and the clear strategy to build the program around a new courtyard allowed the simple yet effective construction of this single house. The architects used the existing stone façades and adobe party walls to achieve very high spatial qualities with very cheap construction materials: the final cost was 490€/m2.
The Jury appreciated the simplicity and clarity of the spaces, how these were connected internally and with the outside garden and street, and how the architects achieved a very high environmental and textural quality from the intelligent use of construction materials bought at the nearby supply shop.
The theme of single houses – they have been the second most nominated programme in the 2015 edition of the Prize – often allows young architects to experiment with real themes, clients and constraints, while working on competitions and other projects who can fulfil their research attitude and the hope to deal with bigger commissions.

Cino Zucchi, Tony Chapman, Margarita Jover, Xiangning Li, Hansjörg Mölk, Lene Tranberg and Peter L. Wilson
Barcelona, May 8 2015