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FaulknerBrowns completes building with asymmetric pyramidal roof for Durham University

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The 8,000m² Lower Mountjoy Teaching and Learning Centre is formed of 11 modules which break down its volume on a sensitive site 

The three-storey building, which was delivered by Space Architects and Galliford Try, is designed to provide new teaching and learning facilities to support an increase in student numbers at Durham University. It also accommodates the Durham Centre for Academic Development which leads on the university’s curriculum reform programme. 

The site on Mountjoy Academic Campus is at the edge of the city centre, adjacent to a conservation area and within view of the World Heritage Site around the cathedral and castle.

The new centre’s overall volume has been designed as an assemblage of smaller repeated elements or modules, intended to relate to the grain of the city and integrate it with the urban fabric.  

4. faulknerbrowns architects lower mountjoy teaching and learning centre ©jack hobhouse

Lower Mountjoy Teaching and Learning Centre by FaulknerBrowns Architects

Each three-storey module has a 15 x 18m footprint and is capped by an asymmetric pyramidal roof with a central rooflight. Eleven modules create the overall plan layout, with a 12th one ‘removed’ to create a covered internal courtyard. The pyramidal roofs are finished in traditional standing-seam zinc sheet to contrast with the tones of the brickwork and to sit within the conservation setting. 

The roof profiles create a series of top-lit ceiling coffers to the upper level, lighting a ’learning commons’, a modern interpretation of the traditional reading room. 

Inside, a top-lit central courtyard forms the social and circulation hub of the building giving access to the café, 250 and 500-seat lecture theatres, seminar spaces and project rooms. A mix of teaching spaces surround the lecture theatres, with cellular project rooms to provide spaces for self-guided group work and support innovative pedagogies such as ’flipped learning’.

6. faulknerbrowns architects lower mountjoy teaching and learning centre ©jack hobhouse

The vaulted top-floor ‘learning commons’ area is designed to support both contemplative and collaborative learning, with full-height windows providing views out. 

The centre has been designed to BREEAM Excellent standard and to deliver EPC A-rated energy performance. Thin film photovoltaics embedded within the courtyard roof glazing, together with a combined heat and power unit, contribute to onsite renewable energy generation. Mixed-mode ventilation is employed, with natural ventilation provided from the louvre panels next to the windows, controlled by the Building Management System. Transfer grilles in the rear of the teaching spaces exhaust warm air to the atrium where it is discharged through the rooflights via a natural stack effect.

10. faulknerbrowns architects lower mountjoy teaching and learning centre ©david cadzow

Architect’s view

In 2016, we led the development of a masterplan for the university’s 227-hectare estate, which supported the development of a new university strategy. The masterplan identified the need to provide a new teaching and learning centre by the start of the 2019-20 academic year, an immediate and pressing focus.

Working with academic and estates teams, we developed a model which demonstrated the optimum mix of teaching and learning spaces to meet timetabling requirements, while supporting evolving teaching and learning practices. This included the move to more collaborative and group learning styles and the development of digital examination formats.

Applying best practice space standards to this mix generated an area requirement of around 8,000m². This highlighted another challenge. The benefits of a compact building form were clear, but a large building of this scale in Durham, with its medieval grain, challenging topography and views of the World Heritage Site, demanded an alternative approach.

The decision to fragment the building into a series of repeated volumes, each with its own asymmetric pyramidal roof, was the breakthrough. Instead of one large mass it became an assembly of forms much more appropriate to its setting.

A sensitive addition to the Durham skyline, the building’s signature roof form also contributes to the character of the top-floor learning commons, with vaulted ceilings, rooflights and stunning views over the landscape and city. These spaces provide a varied mix of learning areas for individual and group study which can also ‘flex’ to support large-scale academic conferences.

Andrew Kane, partner, FaulknerBrowns Architects

13. faulknerbrowns architects lower mountjoy teaching and learning centre ©kristen mccluskie

Client’s view

Our university strategy, which runs from 2017 to 2027, aims to deliver education that is challenging, enabling, research-led and transformative. To do this, we are using innovative approaches to teaching and the latest digital technologies.

The new Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC) supports this vision, hosting a wide range of learning environments and technologies which enhance the student experience. Students can attend class, meet with peer study groups, consult tutors and gain nourishment all in the same building. The TLC also houses an experimental Education Laboratory where new approaches to teaching and learning are being developed. Everyone learns in different ways, and we’re looking for creative ways to ensure that all students can thrive.

The building contributes to the digital transformation of teaching and learning at Durham. Last year, we rolled out lecture capture across teaching rooms, enabling lecture content to be recorded and available to students later through the virtual learning environment. This provides students with an additional learning and revision aid and assists students whose first language is not English or who have particular educational needs and conditions. By facilitating lecture capture, the TLC helps make Durham education more accessible and inclusive.

Having opened in September, the building has received very positive feedback from students and staff and is being well used. In its first term alone, the centre was home to nearly 4,000 hours of teaching from 21 of our academic departments, with classes ranging in size from 20 students to over 450. 

Alan Houston, vice-provost (education), Durham University

25. level 00 plan (annotated) faulknerbrowns architects lower mountjoy teaching and learning centre ©faulknerbrowns

Level 00 plan

Project data 

Start on site December 2017
Completion September 2019
Gross internal area 8,250m²
Construction cost £25 million
Architect FaulknerBrowns Architects
Delivery architect Space Architects
Client Durham University
Structural/civil engineer Buro Happold (design stages); Cundall (delivery phase)
Environmental/M&E engineer Buro Happold (design stages); Cundall (delivery phase)
Quantity surveyor Turner & Townsend
Landscape Land Use Consultants (design stages); OOBE (delivery phase)
Planning consultant DPP
BREEAM assessor Cundall
Clerk of works Hickton (on behalf of Durham University)
Main contractor Galliford Try

29. section (annotated) faulknerbrowns architects lower mountjoy teaching and learning centre ©faulknerbrowns


Environmental performance data

On-site energy generation 78 per cent
Annual mains water consumption 5.64m³/occupant
Airtightness at 50pa 4.86m³/hr/m²
Heating and hot water load 69.53kWh/m²/yr
Overall area-weighted U-value 0.37W/m²k
Annual CO2 emissions (regulated and unregulated) 30.86kgCO2eq/m2 

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