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Saw tooth roofed gallery wins top UK architecture prize

An art gallery with a striking spiky saw-tooth roof has been named as the UK’s best building of the year.

The Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall, London, is the winner of the country’s most prestigious architecture price from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

It is the first time Caruso St John architects have won the RIBA Stirling Prize after being shortlisted for the award for Brick House, west London in 2006 and New Art Gallery Walsall in 2000.

Newport Street Gallery involved the conversion and transformation of a street facing a railway line in Vauxhall, south London, into a free public gallery for globally recognised artist Damien Hirst’s private art collection.

Three listed Victorian industrial buildings, formerly carpentry and scenery painting workshops for West End theatres, have been remodelled and flanked at either end by entirely new buildings, one with a striking, spiky saw-tooth roof.

The new additions have a specially-created hard pale red brick finish to closely reference the original buildings, while a huge LED panel on the railway facade encourages passing train commuters to visit. The ground and upper floors within the interconnected five buildings are continuous, with new spiral staircases on their side, to create flexible spaces able to accommodate everything from individual works to larger shows.

‘This highly accomplished and expertly detailed art gallery is a bold and confident contribution to the best of UK architecture. Caruso St John’s approach to conservation is irreverent yet sensitive and achieves a clever solution that expresses a poetic juxtaposition of old and new,’ said the judges.

‘The collection of buildings is beautifully curated, pulled together by the use of brick yet still expressive of their individuality. The playful use of LED technology gives a contemporary addition to the façade,’ they continued.

‘Internally, the five buildings are connected as a continuous and coherent sequence of light filled gallery spaces. The simple and logical circulation is enlivened by exquisitely detailed and sensuous staircases. The gallery, which is free of charge, is a generous asset to an evolving community,’ they added.

According to RIBA president Jane Duncan the building is as much a piece of art as the work inside. ‘Damien Hirst has made an exceptional contribution to the UK’s strong history of private patronage of architecture. Not only has Damien opened up his enviable private art collection to the world, but he has commissioned a real work of art to house it in,’ she pointed out.

‘Caruso St John have created a stunningly versatile space from a number of linked buildings, with beautifully crafted staircases and superb details including tactile brick facades that blend the street externally and create a succession of wonderful gallery spaces,’ she said.

‘This project exemplifies the best of UK architecture, a highly considered and creative project that brings to life a previouslyunloved pocket of the city,’ she added.

Peter St John, partner with Caruso St John Architects, pointed out that it is rare for architects to be given the opportunity to realise a personal vision of this quality and for that vision to have a generous public dimension.

‘We see the building as a palace for direct, intimate and luxurious encounters with contemporary art, and we are very pleased that this award will bring more people to see this extraordinary collection,’ he added.

Max Fordham designed the environmental engineering for the project, and performed the acoustics and lighting consultancy as well. The work included the refurbishment of three, listed, former theatre scenery workshops and the addition of extensive gallery space.

‘The location and historic nature of the building provided many challenges, but I am extremely proud of what we have achieved here and the end result is as much a work of art as the incredible collection it houses,’ said Andy Hutton, project engineer at Max Fordham.

‘Services for the utilities were diverted to run below the pavement outside to ensure easy access for forklifts and trucks to transport artworks, some as heavy as 40 tonnes. Natural daylight was prioritised over artificial lighting where feasible, and low-noise air conditioning was installed to complement the serene intimacy of the gallery,’ he added.