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Paisley pattern

buildingsPage & Park Architects' fun students' union has helped to put Paisley University on the map

A one-off shape in lavender render (after long colour discussions with planners) makes a strong mark in the clamour of Storey Street in the centre of Paisley, with its gap sites and buildings of mixed ages and moderate quality, several shouting for attention.

Page & Park's students' union does some context-mending, its long curved facade and its immediate landscaping providing an upgraded pedestrian route between itself and the next building down the hill.

Render has often been used by Page & Park, either as 'figure' (as here) or as 'ground', as at Loch Lomond. The practice has an increasing confidence with colour in public, as in its emerging South Gyle Business Park scheme. Here in Paisley the lavender appears near total from the street, apart from the grey-brick stair tower, but moving round the building and down the slope a storey of grey brick gradually grows out of the ground below the horizontal render band.

The building was commissioned by both the university and the student association. It is the latter which has added a few interesting quirks, starting with the entrance, deliberately kept tight so it would be jam-packed on a function night. This entrance leads through acoustic doors to the main, double-height (6m) ground-floor space - by day a 250-seat refectory, by night a 500-standing disco (with small demountable stage). Its bar (a servery in the daytime) is also deliberately tight for that sense of a throng.And the DJ on a balcony has HVAC controls so the heat can be turned up on a slack night to increase bar turnover.

The tall windows give excellent daylight penetration into a relatively deep space.

Full-height, sound-absorbing shutters, faced in perforated metal, can be closed at night over the triple acoustic glazing. Such precautions were needed after the local authority insisted that the new building should not increase the surrounding area's overall outdoor background noise levels. In the main bar upstairs, where music is piped constantly, the 250mm concrete outer wall is almost windowless for acoustic protection. (With 190mm of external installation there is also a lot of thermal stability. ) In this upper bar students went, in contrast to downstairs, for a large bar, which at 30m may be the longest student bar in Scotland (a good one for the prospectus).

Alongside the bar area is a dry lounge space for the under 18s in this higher/further education institution. Below is a mezzanine floor alongside the upper part of refectory/disco volume, largely used for storage. Above, the top floor is a band of offices single-banked on a perimeter corridor with solar-control glazed windows. Metal stud partitions mean future re-arrangement will be easy.

Not surprisingly, the materials palette is robust rather than refined; exposed concrete, galvanised metal and painted plaster.

The party floor between refectory/disco and upper bar comprises concrete T-beams with acoustic absorbent material, and services in the trough soffits. The upper bar ceiling is an exposed metal-deck monopitch roof. Bars are fronted with perforated metal sheet. A future fit-out lining is a possibility for the refectory/disco and upper bar, if funds allow some day, so threaded bolt sockets have been cast into their concrete walls.

At key points through the building, plaster walls have been painted in strong colours, followed through in the furniture; not quite the bright colours of the primary school but more about impact than subtlety. The student representatives were party to decisions - they chose the furniture - and have got an informal building they feel at home in, like favourite clothes. Of course, it is well used.

And while is doesn't at all meet the oft-stated aim of university estates departments to have buildings that could be readily resold for commercial use, it does have a role - as an iconic building of quality - in raising the profile of the university, and in showing that it is prepared to invest in its students.

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