With the Woolfson Medical Building in Glasgow, Edinburgh practice Reiach and Hall Architects has created a strong urban presence and gives the school a heart that shimmers with light
Academic life is increasingly competitive, with research assessments, competition for students and facilities, and the need to fundraise all affecting new project viability.
Glasgow Medical School is old-established, doing well on these fronts, and in the new Woolfson Medical Building is aiming to attract the best students.
Medical education here is staff-intensive and significantly problem-based. If that sounds like architectural education, the parallels soon stop. Student learning is much more systematic in its content and structured in its methods. At Glasgow, the 240 per year undergraduate intake splits into groups of 80 for formal teaching and 10 groups of eight (or smaller) for project work, including much observing of each other in simulated medical situations. The building reflects this current teaching structure, often with small spaces, though the building is by no means inflexible.
Reiach and Hall Architects won the competition for a building both for teaching and with a changing role in the urban grain of Glasgow's West End. Coming down the hill on University Avenue past the strong stone buildings of the existing university with its George Gilbert Scott landmark tower, the coherence then diminishes and needs another strong building to help restore it.
The new building is also a marker, a potential gateway for future extensions of the university campus behind it and to the south, where land is being acquired from the Western Infirmary.
Located at the point of a narrowly triangular site where University Avenue and University Place divide, you are met by a subtly paved plaza before a curved, steel and glass double-skinned wall. Behind the glass are western red cedar bladed louvre blinds, expected to be left down most of the time on this easterly facade. They provide a lot of fine detail in what is otherwise a sharply crafted exterior of simple planes. Running down University Avenue, the stack-bonded Copp Cragg sandstone offers some echo of the surrounding buildings, though this stone is much more figured than the dour Glasgow norm. Stone is offset against white render, which continues to the other facades.
On University Place, the building doglegs behind a brick shed owned by the Western Infirmary's pharmacy. The developing campus plan may result in this unprepossessing building being removed in a few years, opening to view one of the new facades that would have been designed very differently if it could have followed the street line from day one. Campus planning has also delayed part of a garden area to the west, outside the ground floor common room/cafe. Designed by Gross Max, this will include a hortus medicus - a living catalogue of medicinal plants. It will revive a tradition of physic gardens - Glasgow's was laid out in 1704 but faded out in the 19th century.
The varying facade treatments are very much an expression of the internal organisation of the building. The front glazed volume is the 'study landscape' above the Dean's ground floor offices. The plan is two Ls, one academic, one service/ancillary, that frame a central triangular atrium. The restrained palette of materials externally continues through to the interior with plain stone and tile floors, rendered walls and ceilings, enlivened in places by cherry joinery and especially by the use of light to animate surfaces.
A low-profile entrance under an overhang leads into the entrance lobby with its roll-call of donors, the atrium not immediately evident beyond. Partly this is organisational, since the reception area provides separate, secure access to the study landscape above, allowing it to be open 24 hours a day while the rest of the building is closed. But not entering the atrium directly also allows it to be at the heart of the school-in-use, with accommodation on all three sides.
Architect Douglas Roxburgh points to earlier university courtyard planning in Glasgow and Oxbridge as precedents, and had at one stage thought of the atrium area being open-roofed. Indeed, it remains more courtyard than conventional working atrium, a circulation space that will only occasionally house activities. It is the orientation space for the whole school and the visual heart. White-walled, there is a magical variety of lighting effects that come from the all-glass atrium roof. Flat glass panels supported on glass beams produce a cascade of different patterns and colourings as the sun and clouds move round. With glass beams spanning up to 15.5m, this is a spectacular fusion of art and technology (see Facade engineering).
These lighting effects wash down two walls of the atrium. The third wall, north facing, has a different visual focus with groups of lockers housed in projecting, largely enclosed balconies. Seen from the common room/cafe end, they show different coloured walls within. The service and ancillary accommodation is behind this wall, including services distribution, stores, WCs and some back-offices.
Light and lighting are treated with care throughout, with the help of lighting designer Gavin Frazer. For example, downward wallwashers are used at mid-wall height on some routes (and the same unidirectional fittings used at ceiling level to light the colonnade beside the atrium on ground floor). On the two principal dog-leg stairs, the legs are divided by a continuous vertical sheet of stainless steel mesh, lit with fluorescent tubes on the walls opposite to make the mesh sparkle.
On the teaching side, the different levels relate differently to the atrium. There is a ground floor colonnade leading to larger spaces, including an elliptical, cherry clad lecture theatre. It is in the round, as surgical teaching tradition established, though bodies are not carved in this building. On the first floor, there is balcony access to small project rooms/offices with etched glass fronts and occasional clear glass viewing areas. On the second floor, fire requirements dictate fixed windows onto the atrium for group rooms, and the large space subdividable into wards where actors simulate hospital life in the teaching of clinical skills.
The three-storey study landscape at the front feels different after the multiplicity of teaching spaces, though less different than might be expected. Like many an open-plan study space, the sense of openness is somewhat lost to the furniture with their dividing screens - laptops and their noise are becoming the norm. The architects provided indicative furniture designs, and appear reasonably pleased with the result. The desks and bookstacks feel in-keeping. Seen from outside the building, the fully glazed wall and its timber louvres might suggest a dramatic three-storey space within, but inside the study landscape, they read as background.
Only on the top floor, with its increased ceiling height, does the drama build.
Back in the main school, you arrive inevitably at the atrium, the school's central focus. In many an academic building, dull corridors emphasise the separateness of cellular accommodation. Here the 'corridor' is the atrium and its margins, a lively architectural foreground which helps draw these spaces together into a whole. It is a space of changing animation. It is no cliché to talk of designing with light.
The atrium roof employs glass beams spanning from 2.6m up to 15.5m, thought to be twice the span of anything yet built.The longest beams comprise four laminated sections - up to 3.9m long and 1.3m deep - spliced together using elegant steel straps.Each section comprises two 19mm leaves, its length limited by toughening technology.
The splices are highly innovative, requiring the specification of bespoke testing to confirm design assumptions.Connections are friction-grip through soft-grade aluminium spacer plates cast into the beam locally in place of the resin interlayer.These spacers absorb the huge compressive forces resulting from friction-grip connection, which would otherwise cause the resin interlayer to squash and migrate outwards, giving rise to unpredictable stresses in the glass.The fasteners are tension control bolts (allowing a very accurate tensioning to be achieved reliably),20mm diameter, in Grade 10.9 high strength steel.Splice plates are 12mm stainless steel loaded through spring washers which spread load, mitigate temperature effects on bolt tension and mask the bolt heads and nuts.
Glass beams are at 1.5m centres, supporting double-glazed units with a laminated lower leaf.These units are trafficable for maintenance, though cleaning is planned to be carried out from the roof perimeter.They have a high-performance, neutral solar control coating (Pilkington's Titon) to limit heat gain while retaining visual clarity.
Communication of design ideas and visual intent was accomplished using extensive freehand sketches through to rapid prototyping of particular elements.Arup was both consultant to Reiach and Hall and later appointed detailed design engineer to glazing subcontractor MAG Hansen.
(For the study landscape, three-storey structural glazing, see Working Detail, page 28-29. ) Duncan Richards, Arup Facade Engineering Services The provision of a healthy, comfortable environment for building users, and the University of Glasgow's Energy Policy to incorporate best energy efficient practices, were the ultimate goals for building services design.
The study landscape's double-skinned glass wall is open between floors around access platforms. It is used as a buffer zone.While it could provide beneficial heat gain in winter, there was a risk of overheating and glare in summer, and this was examined as part of a detailed simulation of energy and comfort under differing operational/ construction conditions.This resulted in the introduction of the louvre blinds.The night ventilation purging also came out of this simulation.Automated opening of the inner glazed wall allows any additional build-up of heat to be evacuated through the buffer zone.The simulation indicated that energy consumed for heating, ventilation and cooling represents Good Practice compared to Energy Consumption Guide (ECON 19).
The mechanical services have been designed to facilitate the division of the building into four zones.Low-energy design includes underfloor heating, variable air volume/displacement ventilation and passive chilled ceilings.As a result, a greater level of automatic control and occupancy comfort will be provided.
The electrical services provide a high degree of flexibility within the study landscape for future voice, data and power requirements by utilising an underfloor busbar and containment system.
Using a roof-mounted daylight sensor, the lighting control system dims the general perimeter lighting within the study landscape and in the atrium, depending on daylight levels.
The system also adjusts blade tilt angle of the timber blinds to control solar glare.Microwave detectors provide presence detection within all circulation routes.An extensive audio and visual cabling infrastructure has been installed to meet future teaching needs.
Des Burns, Hulley & Kirkwood
The main structural steel frames are located as bays of 10.8m x 6m, generally with secondary beams at 3m centres.Lateral stability is provided by vertical bracing panels within the core/external walls and rigid frame action along the western elevation with its large cafe wall opening.The upper floors of the building are formed in composite metal deck/in-situ concrete and the roof of lightweight structural metal decking spanning directly between the main rafters.
The steel frame is supported on traditional pad and strip footings bearing on stiff glacial till.
Shallow mineworkings under the eastern edge of the site had to be stabilised by injecting a cement-based grout prior to construction.The basement, mainly for general university car parking, is formed of an in-situ reinforced ground bearing slab incorporating water bars at all the construction joints and an external waterproof membrane.
The structural glass roof (see Facade engineering) is supported at its perimeter by the structural steelwork.Because the glazing is fixed by eccentrically mounted shoes to the main structure, counterbalance beams have been provided in the adjacent steel framing to prevent torsion and limit twisting deformation.
Gerry Barr, URS Corporation
University of Glasgow www. gla. ac. uk
Reiach and Hall Architects www. reiachandhall. co. uk
Turner & Townsend www. turnerandtownsend. com
URS Corporation www. urscorp. com
Arup Facade Engineering www. arup. com
Hulley & Kirkwood www. hulley. co. uk
Costain www. costain. co. uk
Costs based on tender sum
SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATIONS, SLABS £54.41m
SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £68.79/m 2
UPPER FLOORS £13.85/m 2
ROOF £60.98/m 2
STAIRS £27.36m 2
EXTERNAL WALLS £208.06/m 2
WINDOWS AND EXTERNAL DOORS £10.77/m 2
INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £54.32/m 2
INTERNAL DOORS £19.71/m 2
INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £12.55/m 2
FLOOR FINISHES £35.09/m 2
CEILING FINISHES £15.47/m 2
FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS
FITTINGS, FURNITURE £15.82/m
SERVICES SANITARY APPLIANCES £4.47/m 2
SERVICES EQUIPMENT £3.92/m 2
DISPOSAL INSTALLATIONS £3.44/m 2
WATER INSTALLATIONS £15.21/m 2
HEAT SOURCE £4.64/m 2
SPACE HEATING AND AIR TREATMENT £66.77/m 2
VENTILATION SYSTEMS £73.30/m 2
ELECTRICAL INSTALLATIONS £142.57/m 2
GAS INSTALLATIONS £0.85/m 2
LIFT INSTALLATIONS £24.55/m 2
PROTECTIVE INSTALLATIONS £48.47/m 2
COMMUNICATIONS INSTALLATIONS £19.11/m 2
SPECIAL INSTALLATIONS £56.54/m 2
BUILDING WORK IN CONNECTION £13.09/m 2
EXTERNAL WORKS 2
SITE WORKS £40.20/m 2
DRAINAGE £4.51/m 2
EXTERNAL SERVICES £11.73/m 2
MINOR BUILDING WORK £1.45/m 2
PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES
PRELIMINARIES £157.37/m 2
Cost summary Cost per m 2(£) % of total
SUBSTRUCTURE 54.41 4.06
SUPERSTRUCTURE Frame 68.79 5.13 Upper floors 13.85 1.03 Roof 60.98 4.55 Stairs 27.36 2.04 External walls 208.06 15.52 Windows and external doors 10.77 0.80 Internal walls and partitions 54.32 4.05 Internal doors 19.71 1.47 Group element total 463.84 34.59
INTERNAL FINISHES Wall finishes 12.55 0.94 Floor finishes 35.09 2.62 Ceiling finishes 15.47 1.15 Group element total 63.11 4.71
FITTINGS AND FURNITURE 15.82 1.18
SERVICES Sanitary appliance 4.47 0.33 Services equipment 3.92 0.29 Disposal installations 3.44 0.26 Water installations 15.21 1.13 Heat source 4.64 0.35 Space heating and air treatment 66.77 4.98 Ventilation systems 73.30 5.47 Electrical installations 142.57 10.63 Gas installations 0.85 0.06 Lift installations 24.55 1.83 Protective installations 48.47 3.61 Communications installations 19.11 1.43 Special installations 56.54 4.22 Building work in connection 13.09 0.98 Group element total 476.93 35.57
EXTERNAL WORKS Site works 40.20 3.00 Drainage 4.51 0.34 External services 11.73 0.87 Minor building work 1.45 0.11 Group element total 57.89 4.32
PRELIMINARIES 157.37 11.74
CONTINGENCIES 51.57 3.85
TOTAL 1,340.94 100
CREDITS TENDER DATE 5 May 2000
START ON SITE 23 October 2000
CONTRACT DURATION 18 months
GROSS INTERNAL FLOOR AREA 6,884m 2
FORM OF CONTRACT Scottish Building Contract with Quantities (April 1998 Revision) with TC/94
CLIENT University of Glasgow
ARCHITECT Reiach and Hall Architects
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Turner & Townsend
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER URS Corporation
FACADE ENGINEER Arup Facade Engineering
M&E ENGINEER Hulley & Kirkwood
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Gross Max
PLANNING SUPERVISOR Beattie Watkinson Planning Supervisors
LIGHTING DESIGNER Gavin Frazer
FIRE CONSULTANT Edinburgh Fire Consultants
CATERING CONSULTANT Jim Peat Design
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Sarnafil roofing Aim Developments; tiling A De Cecco; internal render AJ Higgins; electrical Balfour Kilpatrick; concrete works Central Contractors; suspended ceilings Clansman Interiors; concrete cutting Clyde Valley Drilling; plumbing works J Crawford (Plumbers);
drainage works Dicon; joinery works Firside Joinery; mechanical Haden Young; screeds Industrial Floor Treatments; roofing Kelsey Roofing; solar blinds Levolux AT; movable partitions Little & Rutherford; STO render Llewellyn; structural glazingMAG Hansen; blacksmiths R Miller, WHM Engineering; scaffoldingMitie access; metal deckingMSW; fire protection Omnifire; lift installation Otis; window installation PA L Installations; manufactured joinery, reception desks James Paul; painter Richard Parks; dry lining, partitions RD Partitions; structural steelwork J&D Pierce Contracts; curtain walling Solaglas; raised access floors Veitchi (Scotland); window supplier Velfac; sprinkler installation Vipond Fire Protection; stonework Watson Stonecraft; temporary electrics Nortech