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Jarman on Manchester School of Art

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Tom Jarman, partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, on the Stirling Prize-shortlisted Manchester School of Art

What was your initial concept?

We were interested in testing a number of ideas contained within an exploratory space strategy, developed by academics at the university, and to use these ideas to inform the interior arrangements of the new extension to the School of Art. We were also keen to connect with, and revitalise, existing art school facilities in the adjacent arts block.

Did the executed project differ from this initial concept?

In most respects the competition design closely resembles the completed project. The initial concept investigated the spatial, connective and volumetric possibilities, as well as investigating the idea of a ‘window on the arts’ - all ideas that endured as the scheme progressed. The particularity of the interior language came later on in the design process.

What was the client’s input?

In setting the design brief for the new facility, the academics at the faculty interrogated their own creative and teaching practices, asking themselves: how might an art school environment be conceived to best support their contemporary practice and pedagogy?

Determining that a softer interaction between parts and a loosening of boundaries might yield a freer, more diverse and interesting set of outcomes, the space brief was written around a series of embryonic spatial models.

The university created a brief that envisioned many interesting possibilities for us to respond to in terms of the arrangement of the newbuilding.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project and why?

The project was hit by a number of subcontractor insolvencies during construction, causing complexities and major disruption to the build programme. The most significant of these was the facades works, which were held up by two successive insolvencies, making for very complex and challenging times.

What is the most important lesson you have taken from this project?

To find great clients to work for and do your best for them.

Where does this building sit within the evolution of the practice?

The School of Art represents an important step forward for the practice on a number of different levels. First is how the building contributes to the ongoing debate on the relationship between architecture and pedagogy. The full impact of technology, of changing approaches to learning, and the shifts in student expectations are only just beginning to make themselves felt in terms of spatial design. Manchester School of Art embraced the idea of interdisciplinary learning and gave us the green light to really push ideas of exchange, openness and agility within the scheme.

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