Alison Brooks: Context Is Everything

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Busy urban street filled with cars and colorful buildings

Alison Brooks Architect's Quarterhouse Performing Arts and Business Centre in Folkestone, located in the Kent district, England. image / provided


With its origins in literary discourse, context enables us to weave together individual and shared experiences to arrive at a shared understanding. In this talk, Alison Brooks, founder of Alison Brooks Architects London, will speak about the role of context and collective memory as a springboard for culturally resonant, materially expressive work that spans an extraordinary range of scales, geographies, and demographics. 


Alison Brooks is one of the U.K.'s most highly awarded and internationally acclaimed architects. A native of Guelph, Ontario, she studied architecture at the University of Waterloo before moving to London in 1988. Since founding her practice in 1996, she has emerged as one of the U.K.'s most inventive architects with works encompassing urban design and housing, higher education buildings, private houses, and public buildings for the arts. In addition to receiving more than 70 awards for design achievement, she is the only U.K. architect to have received all four of the RIBA's most prestigious architectural awards: the Stirling Prize, the Manser Medal (twice), RIBA House of the Year, and the Stephen Lawrence Prize. 

Alison Brooks's architectural approach springs from invested research into specific geographies, climates, and cultures of each project so that her design solutions emerge as both unique and relevant to the constituencies they serve. This is beautifully exemplified by her recently completed Cohen Quadrangle at Exeter College, Oxford. The first Oxford College to be designed by a female architect, this building demonstrates the conceptual rigor, sculptural qualities, and ingenious detailing that is her practice trademark. 

Brooks has dedicated much of her professional career to housing design and has completed over 1000 dwellings across the U.K., including the Stirling Prize-winning Accordia, Cambridge; Stirling Prize-shortlisted Newhall Be; and multi-award-winning Ely Court in London. Recent high-profile commissions include mixed-use, high-density urban developments in London, Vancouver, and Toronto. 

In the arts and education sector, she is currently designing an Entrance Building and Literature Centre for Homerton College Cambridge and an art museum and study center for one of Cambridge's oldest Colleges. Her cultural projects include the Folkestone Performing Arts Centre and the Smile, her world-famous timber pavilion for the 2016 London Design Festival. In 2022, her practice attained second place in the international competition for the London School of Economics Firoz Llalji Global Hub. 

Brooks has become a public voice for the profession, advocating the role of women in architecture, the resurgence of building craft, and the value of timber as an expressive, low-carbon building technology. In 2012, she was awarded BD Housing Architect of the Year and Architect of the Year. She was subsequently awarded the 2013 AJ Woman Architect of the Year in recognition of her work in housing, regeneration, and education.  In 2017, she was appointed Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts, London Mayor's Design Advocate, and recognized with the AJ100 Contribution to the Profession Award. In 2020, her practice was awarded Dezeen Architect of the Year and Housing Architect of the Year. 

Alison Brooks has contributed to architectural education for over fifteen years as an External Examiner for University of Central London, University of Bath, University of Lincoln, and the Architectural Association. She taught a Diploma School Unit at the Architectural Association Diploma School from 2008–2010 and served as External Examiner from 2016–2019.  In 2018, Alison was appointed as the John T. Dunlop Design Critic in Architecture at Harvard GSD.  Since 2018 she has been Visiting Professor for the Masters in Collective Housing at ETSAM, Universidad Politécnica of Madrid. Brooks lectures internationally on architecture and urban design and serves on numerous international design competition juries.

In 2014 Alison was awarded an Alumni Achievement Award by the University of Waterloo, followed by a 2016 Doctorate of Engineering (Hon Causa).

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