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Deborah Mulhearn reviews the design philosophy of van Heyningen and Haward

The RIBA competitions office has been putting its space at Manchester's CUBE Gallery to good use with a series of exhibitions and accompanying lectures, 'Winning Designs'.

The latest speakers were Joanna van Heyningen and Birkin Haward, describing their winning design for City and Islington College in north London and a selection of earlier schemes.

The second slide featured a goat. This was not, apparently, a tilt at the capricious nature of clients, despite the brief for the City and Islington College changing out of the blue from a further education to a sixth form college - and then even further along switching to design and build.

If van Heyningen and Haward were frustrated by their winning design's vicissitudes, it did not show. What came across was in fact consistency - in design intent, in commitment to sustainability, and in creating an inspirational space for the building's inhabitants.

Van Heyningen and Haward picked three very different educational buildings to illustrate their inside-out, people-centred design philosophy.

Cost per square metre may have varied widely, but a picture emerged of how each project had informed and influenced the next. Natural light, attention to acoustics, and the work/play balance were paramount.

First was one of those groovy progressive schools in well-heeled Hampstead in north London. King Alfred School did not have much money but needed new lower school buildings, with the proviso that construction work should not disturb any part of school life or affect the children.

Outdoor spaces were to be maximised for these inner-city children, so classrooms were opened out onto the playing fields and semi-enclosed wooden terraces blurred the boundaries between inside and out.

The goat lived here, and was to van Heyningen and Haward a symbol for the school children's status - 'It thinks it's free but actually it's tethered, ' explained van Heyningen.

She went on to stress the importance of natural ventilation in educational buildings, where people occupy a room for an hour or more with the door shut, and computers generate heat and glare.

At Polhill Information Centre, part of De Montfort University's Bedford campus, timber louvres set away from the building help control the internal environment but also allow views out - a humane touch typical of this thoughtful practice.

'We were taught at college to design from the inside out, ' says van Heyningen, 'and you never really forget what you learn at college.'

'Winning designs: City and Islington College' is now showing at the CUBE Gallery, 113-115 Portland Street, Manchester until 31 May. Opening times:

Monday-Friday 12-5.30pm, Saturday 12-5pm, closed Sunday

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