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Balancing act

building study

The culture of Roffey Park Institute's management education seeks a balance between work and living, reflected in the buildings by Architects Design Partnership

Superficially, Roffey Park Institute is a management training college and conference/seminar venue. Beneath this is the embodiment of a particular culture, and the new buildings have been sensitive in their response to that.

Roffey was set up in 1946 by Thomas Ling to help people having problems adjusting to civilian life after the Second World War.

Within a few months Roffey adjusted to the bigger picture, focusing on training managers to recognise staff stress in the workplace and to provide a supportive environment for them. This focus on managers as whole people continues today, 'enabling them to achieve their full potential at work and in their wider lives', as the institute has it.

Roffey remains a charitable trust.

The landscape setting, and the delivery of the courses Roffey runs, support its approach of fostering personal reflection. The site is 16ha of parkland in St Leonard's Forest, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near Horsham in West Sussex. Courses play down formal instruction in favour of small group working and organising your own time. You are encouraged to work and walk and talk in the landscape.

Having started with a coach house, stable block and clock tower adjacent to a walled kitchen garden that had been part of a home farm, Roffey grew and has added buildings about every 10 years since, including training suites, a learning resource centre, catering, health/fitness facilities, a coffee lounge and 45 study bedrooms. Their various red brickwork at least ties these generations of buildings together. But as Roffey's chief executive Valerie Hammond points out, they have had 'success despite their buildings. The buildings did them no favours.'

This history, and the increasing quality of competitors' facilities, led to the institute setting up a series of competitive interviews five years ago. The approach of Architects Design Partnership (ADP) was different from the others in focusing on a way of working together accompanied by watercolour impressions, rather than outline building designs. As might be expected, briefings included 'numerous small group meetings' as mutual understanding grew.

Broadly, the result is 60 units of new residential accommodation (the old eventually to be converted to workspace), a new reception, a lecture space for 120 (before the capacity was 60), with four attendant seminar/break-out spaces and a restaurant (the Orangery) for events and other non-residential hirings.

Their implementation has had to strike a balance between the hard-headed world of business looking for an efficient facility and the softer people-focus that Roffey offers. It is a small but perhaps telling anecdote that in the search for this balancing point there was a discussion within Roffey about whether the study bedrooms should have TVs. On the one hand, Roffey is aware that en suite hotel-standard rooms are what it is competing with (and have been delivered here). On the other hand, Roffey's reflective philosophy, of offering something a place and style apart, argues for something more monastic. TVs won. But the debate is an indicator of the strength of the Roffey culture.

This balancing between hard and soft business is evident in the architecture, a contrast between the urbane and the rural, tradition and innovation, overlain by issues of planning permissions. It has taken much patient discussion to make the case for expansion at this scale on this sensitive site, which is part of the strategic gap between Horsham and Crawley. This is despite the scheme forcing the demolition of some unprepossessing agricultural sheds. Much of the discussion concerned the bulk of buildings.

Fitting in, and keeping down the institutional feel, have been approached first in terms of layout, with what are three near-separate low-profile buildings: the residential accommodation; the 'Reception Building' (which includes reception area, large lecture and seminar spaces); and the restaurant.

Adjacent to the road, beyond a roadside band of landscaped car parking, the end of the reception building emerges as a single storey of metal and glass. It is flanked either side by long brick walls. To the right is a new wall following the line and proportion of the old kitchen garden wall and, unseen behind that, the restaurant. To the left of the entrance is one face of the two-storey U-plan residential accommodation, explicitly drawing on local barn traditions, its brick interspersed with panels of untreated horizontal oak boarding under a steep pitched tile roof. For the newcomer, the softer lines of tradition are the setting for the sharper modernity promised within.

Reception is an important event in the Roffey culture, acting as a focal node for queries throughout your stay and for calling on back-up services. Nevertheless, the eye is immediately drawn beyond through this modern, single-storey glazed pavilion, past two large yellow/green pods either side of the central axis, leading to the doors of the lecture space. These ovoid-plan pods in fact reach out to the landscape with floor-to-ceiling folding glazed doors to the exterior, but from reception their backs are turned toward you, feeling more closed than welcoming.

Beyond, in the lecture space, there is floor-to-ceiling glazing that brings in the panorama of the landscape.Wisely, ADP has included two parallel sets of acoustic slidingfolding partitions rather than one to divide the space (as it has too in the restaurant), acknowledging that one such partition rarely brings quite enough acoustic isolation. Automatic internal blinds control conditions for using audio-visual equipment. The reception building, with its areas of high occupancy, is air-conditioned; elsewhere there is natural ventilation.

Outdoor contact for both the lecture and seminar spaces might elsewhere be thought a distraction, but here it is part of the Roffey approach. The reaching out into the landscape is emphasised in the seminar rooms, not only by their fully opening glazed walls onto the courtyards either side of the building but also by their ovoid plan, where the end of this shape continues outside the building as paving. The western courtyard beyond, edged by the reception building, the restaurant and, on two sides, by existing buildings, has developing planting, providing both contrasting viewpoints and small outdoor meeting spaces.

(Terracing this sloping courtyard was envisaged but the budget did not allow it. ) The restaurant is well connected to this courtyard, better than the plan might suggest.

Built like a lean-too against the imperforate kitchen garden wall, it has rooflights that animate the inside of that wall, now in white plaster, but the only real outdoor contact is onto the courtyard, across a corridor. The restaurant wall onto the corridor has been opened up using two pairs of full-height frameless glass doors that disappear by sliding into the walls, leaving open arches. Opposite these, across the corridor, are sliding, framed glass doors opening onto the courtyard.

The eastern courtyard is less successful, somewhat unsure of its role. It is the outdoor space for two seminar pods but for security reasons none of the residential accommodation opens onto it. Currently it is simply grassed. The wide gap to the south between the residential accommodation and the reception building allows a few residents oblique views to the south, but at the price of losing a sense of courtyard enclosure. Some structure planting would help to give it shape. Indeed, this court - and the park as a whole - needs landscape vision (not part of ADP's remit), not to mention the money to pay for it.

ADP has pulled this space together to a degree by picking up on the white architecture of the reception building, substituting white render for brick as the finish on this courtyard side of the residential accommodation. Also drawing all the new buildings together through their diverse materials palette is the depth of ADP's detailing. Elements are clearly articulated, joints are controlled, lines line through. One example of the investment of effort here is the visual separation of wall and roof of the residential accommodation.

Overall, there is a balanced mix of contrast and consistency, sharply worked but not assertive, an educational setting reinforcing Roffeys' focus on the social and the psychological.

Environment

An early aim of the team was to make the project genuinely environmentally responsible, and this meant a constant balancing of design and cost considerations.

The location is a brownfield site in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This stimulated investigation into the bio-diversity of the area. The Local Area Profiles prepared by English Nature were a useful starting point and a strategy developed with Roffey to create new managed meadows. The design places great importance on the external spaces created by the new buildings, encouraging their use by making them pleasant micro-environments capable of use whenever the weather permits. Two new courtyards have been created to give a focus to the whole site; both these spaces flow out to the magnificent grounds that lie to the south.

The seminar roof was originally envisaged as a formal grass terrace but as part of value engineering the structural costs had to be reduced. The specification was changed to sedum as the depth of the growing medium and porous mat is minimal, thus reducing the roof loadings, particularly when wet. The client was delighted that the sedum would attract a wide range of insect wildlife into the heart of the development.

The Environmental Preference Method (EPM) was used to make informed decisions on choice of materials. It considers the environmental impact throughout the whole life cycle of a material: during extraction, building, occupation and decomposition. During detailed design, ADP also utilised free consultation from the BRE's Design Advice Consultancy. Local materials were selected where possible, and for programme and EPM reasons a timber frame was chosen for the residential wing.

The aim for energy efficiency led to the team promoting the use of natural ventilation to the residential wing, although this was initially of considerable concern to the client, which felt that delegates from abroad would expect air conditioning. Thermal modelling was carried out to check likely maximum temperatures and to determine window sizes and openings, particularly to the south elevation. The fenestration incorporates oak shutters that combine natural light and shading; they allow night-time cooling with ground-floor security. Silver birch planting in courtyards provides additional shading in the summer along the south and west elevations.

Architects Design Partnership

WEBLINKS

Roffey Park Management Institute www. roffey-park. co. uk

Architects Design Partnership www. adp-architects. co. uk

Currie & Brown www. currieb. com

Price & Myers www. pricemyers. com

Slender Winter Partnership www. swpltd. co. uk

Rummey Design Associates www. rummey. co. uk

Buxton Building Contractors www. thebuxtongroup. co. uk

CREDITS

TENDER DATE March 2001

START ON SITE November 2001

CONTRACT DURATION 52 weeks

CONTRACT JCT 98 Management Form

TOTAL COST £5,220,053 (Orangery £984,007; reception building £1,038,167; residential £2,513,280; external works £684,600)

CLIENT Roffey Park Management Institute

ARCHITECT Architects Design Partnership: Roger FitzGerald, Liz Jarrett, Nick Woodcock, Kirsty B Leslie, Dianna Floud

QUANTITY SURVEYOR Currie & Brown

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Price & Myers

SERVICES ENGINEER Slender Winter Partnership

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Rummey Design Associates

MAIN CONTRACTOR Buxton Building Contractors

SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Plastering, rendering ABC-dry (Southern); sliding, bifolding doors, acoustic partitions Alco Beldan; M&E Barrier Smith; profiled metal decking Belmont Corrugated Claddings; precast floors Bison Concrete; floor finishes Cathedral Carpets; blinds CBS; ceramic tiling D&M Barton; ironmongery Dorplan; Erisco Bauder Sedum Roof EJ Roberts Roofing; groundworks Eakins Plant Hire & Groundworks Contractors; soft landscaping Fineview Landscapes; fire dampers Gilberts; sundry metalwork Green-arc Fabrications; staircases Ironworks; mirrors JP Glass; sun louvres LBJ Fabrications; signageMagnetic Media; suspended ceilings Morden Ceilings; timber frame Prestoplan; joinery RTA Joinery; aluminium soffits, flashings Shelley Engineering; plant louvres SL-Techniflow; windows, external doors, curtain walling, roof glazing Solaglas; steelworkWS Britland

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