Battersea Arts Centre scoops string of architecture awards

Battersea Arts Centre has won three prizes at the annual New London Architecture awards.

The venue received the Overall Winner Award for 2020, as well as honours for Experiencing Culture and for Community.

Chosen by an international board of architects, critics and cultural figures, the awards celebrate the capital’s finest architecture, planning and development sites.

Praised as ‘exemplary’ and ‘ingenious’, the recognition marks the prosperity of a 12-year restoration partnership with Stirling-prize winning architects Haworth Tompkins, whose co-operation has helped drive the venue’s success in recent years.

A statement from the panel said: “It is the inclusive nature of the project that signifies a new community-centred era for cultural buildings.

“It wasn’t just a restoration. It was a dedication to innovation, to craft, yet a really thoughtful way of evoking the spaces that were there before.

“You can read the story of the building by looking at it. It communicates to the visitor on so many levels and does that by being of service to a community. Extraordinary.”

Accessibility and flexibility were key considerations in designs, traits which have become invaluable assets during a difficult year for the arts.

Subsidised by the National Lottery and other funders, in 2016 the centre unveiled a new open-air theatre structure, The Courtyard.

Previously an outdoor seating area, the redevelopment allowed the centre to become one of the first venues to re-open following the first lockdown, hosting comedy gigs over the summer.

Restoration plans took a blow in 2015 when the centre’s auditorium was burnt down in a fire, but the redesign birthed a new creative co-working space named The Scratch Hub.

Again, this has proved to be a key resource during the pandemic, allowing local businesses, start-ups, artists, charities and other groups to work in a bio-secure environment.

 Over the course of the last year, Battersea Arts Centre has hosted the London Philharmonia for the first time, as well as Live from the Grand Hall during October.

The latter was a series of two-way live streamed music and comedy gigs that allowed audiences to interact with performers from home.

The Community award also recognized the extensive work the centre has done to support local residents, exemplified by the BAC Beatbox Academy.

Formed in 2008, the Academy began as a performance collective of young artists but has expanded to allow international access during the pandemic, offering weekly drop-in sessions over zoom for 8-29 year olds.

Meanwhile the Academy’s co-created Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster, had a first international tour in January, selling out at the Adelaide Festival before the pandemic’s disruption.

Performance of academy co-created show, Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster
SUPER FRANK: The show has been co-created by Academy members over 10 years Credit: Joyce Nicholls

Steve Tompkins, Director of Haworth Tompkins, reflected: “We’ve learned so much from our 12-year relationship with this extraordinary building and an equally remarkable team of people.

“Being part of such a slowly evolving transformation of both the building and the organisation has deepened our understanding of how cultural spaces can become genuine centres of community.

For all the technical complexity of the task and the unexpected twists of fate, it has been a joyful project to work on.”

Featured image credit: Fred Howarth

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