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Almas lands top design award with vision to revitalise historic Northampton building

News Page 25th June 2020

A student has won a prestigious prize for her ambitious plans to breathe new life into an historic building in Northampton.

Almas Meghani’s vision for a dilapidated former armoury in the middle of the Racecourse park caught the eye of judges from the Royal Society of Arts, who awarded her with an RSA Student Design Award.

The building on the Racecourse.

The awards are the world’s longest-running student design competition whose past winners include the chief design officer at Apple, the director of city strategy for the City of Melbourne and the former head of innovation at Nike.

Almas, who is a second year Interior Architecture and Spatial Design student at the University of Northampton, won the Cultivating Community award, which challenged designers to reimagine common spaces to build diverse communities through food.

Her winning concept was for a community kitchen and ecology centre, which brings people of all ages together to build new skills, participate in allotment gardening and learn about healthy eating.

Almas said: “I feel amazingly grateful to have won the award, particularly as I am a second year student. This achievement is beyond what I had imagined for myself and it makes me so proud to know how far I have come in my personal and professional journey. I feel even more motivated and confident to succeed and fulfil my dreams.”

The interior of Almas’s concept building.

The interior of the community kitchen.

Almas was one of 10 Interior Architecture and Spatial Design undergraduates who were tasked with coming up with plans for the building by Cllr Jane Birch, who is ward councillor for the Racecourse areas and sits on Northampton Borough Council’s planning committee.

The white-rendered building, which dates back to the early 19th Century and was used as an armoury during the Second World War, currently stores equipment used for the park’s upkeep.

It has been earmarked as ripe for conversion into a community facility, and plans for its redevelopment could be included in the Semilong and Trinity Neighbourhood Plan.

The Plan is intended to provide a community-led framework to guide future development in the area and help tackle associated social, economic and environmental issues. Projects included in the Plan have an enhanced chance of receiving funding from various sources, including community payments from developers building new homes in the area.

Almas’ coursemates came up with a variety of alternative uses for the building, including a submerged theatre with outdoor stage; a drug rehabilitation centre; an educational wildlife centre and a venue for art and wood workshops.

The students presented their concepts to members of the Trinity and Semilong Forum group, Friends of Northampton Racecourse and the public at an event held in February.

Almas said: “I had a really positive and enthusiastic response at the presentation. I remember some saying ‘We really need something like this in our community’, ‘I love your design. It is amazing and so refreshing’.”

Almas presenting her concept at the neighbourhood meeting.

With the award under her belt, Almas is now relishing her third and final year at university.

“I have absolutely enjoyed my degree course, so far,” she said Almas.

“I have learned so much from my lecturers and have been supported in my creativity and development as a designer.

“I have had a lot of realistic criticism as well, which has challenged me and motivated me more to pursue my passion and not conform to others’ ideas, but to be myself.”

Looking ahead to post-uni life, Almas has a clear idea of the direction she’d like to take.

She said: “I would like to work with a firm for a short while to gain experience and eventually become a freelance designer or have my own firm and work globally. I want to travel as much as I can and focus on building as an eco-conscience sustainable designer and help deprived communities through my design skills.”

Read our original story about the Racecourse building design challenge.

Almas will receive £1,250 in prize money for the RSA award, which is sponsored by Legal and General.




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