British Brutalist Building Wins 2021 WMF/Knoll Prize

John Hill
19. November 2021
Photo: Gareth Gardner, courtesy of John Puttick Associates

The biennial WMF/Knoll Modernism Prize, established in 2008, "recognizes architects, designers, and preservationists who have demonstrated innovative solutions to preserve or save threatened modern architecture." The 2021 Prize is recognizing the preservation of Preston Bus Station, which was designed Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson of the Building Design Partnership (BDP), was engineered by Ove Arup, and opened to the public in October 1969 as the largest bus station in Europe. The building was planned as the hub and municipal transit center for Central Lancashire New Town, and it was designed with an exposed reinforced concrete structure whose horizontal lines in concrete shield an integrated car parking, bus, and taxi facility. "Preston Bus Station translated functional civic infrastructure into a transportation monument," per the WMF/Knoll Prize announcement.

Photo: Gareth Gardner, courtesy of John Puttick Associates

Fast forward to 2012, and the sizable bus station was included in the World Monuments Watch alongside two other brutalist buildings in the UK: London’s Southbank Centre (1976) and Birmingham Central Library (1974), the latter of which was demolished in 2016. A design competition in 2015 led Lancashire County Council, the owner of Preston Bust Station, to appoint John Puttick Associates to restore the station. According to the architect's website, "the brief included integrating the building with the city, addressing unsafe pedestrian access, creating a dedicated Coach Station and brightening the interior." The firm responded with a design that reoriented the building, "prioritizing pedestrians over vehicles," with spaces consolidated and rearranged, such that the waiting area, for instance, now faces the public square. The jury* commended the urban moves but also the details: "The thoughtful detail of the project at multiple scales particularly resonated with the jury," per the announcement, "including the attention to the restoration of the original flooring and the enhancement of the exterior space to prioritize pedestrian circulation."

Photo: Gareth Gardner, courtesy of John Puttick Associates
Preston Bus Station is the largest project honored by the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Prize and the first at the scale of regional infrastructure. The complex’s respectful restoration represents not only appreciation of the modernist commitment to creating dignified monuments for basic civic functions, but the twenty-first century’s need to adopt sustainable rehabilitation of inherited structures. It is at once an achievement for Lancashire and an exemplar for other cities.

Barry Bergdoll, chair of the jury*

Photo: Gareth Gardner, courtesy of John Puttick Associates
*The 2021 jury included:

  • Barry Bergdoll (Chair), Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art
  • Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
  • Courtney J. Martin, Director of the Yale Center for British Art, Yale University
  • Dietrich Neumann, Professor of the History of Modern Architecture and Director, Urban Studies Department of the History of Art and Architecture, Brown University
  • Susan Macdonald, Head, Buildings and Sites, The Getty Conservation Institute
  • Theo Prudon, President, Docomomo US, and Adjunct Professor of Historic Preservation, Columbia University and Pratt Institute
  • Karen Stein, Critic, Architectural Advisor, and Executive Director of the George Nelson Foundation
  • Mabel O. Wilson, Nancy and George Rupp Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Professor in African American and African Diasporic Studies; and Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies, Columbia University

Photo: Gareth Gardner, courtesy of John Puttick Associates
Past winners of the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize:

Photo: Gareth Gardner, courtesy of John Puttick Associates
The 2021 WMF/Knoll Prize will be presented during a ceremony at AIA New York, Center for Architecture in New York City, on December 14, 2021.

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