[FIRST LOOK] Walker Simpson Architects has completed the retrofit of the former Didsbury College of Further Education
Reopened last week as Manchester College’s Fielden Campus, the £9 million scheme involved clearing ‘clutter’, adding a double-glazed thermally broken window system and insulated spandrel panelling.
The original building, designed by City of Manchester architect SG Besant-Roberts in 1972, offered adult education courses across South Manchester until ‘mothballed several years ago’.
A spokesperson for the practice, which worked with Arup and Edge Architecture, said: ‘The site had silted up over the decades with temporary buildings scattered around, bits of landscaping and fencing and expedient “paint jobs” on the original fabric.
‘Clearing away this clutter brought immediate benefits.’
The mortar and resin concrete repairs were left visible.
Source: Daniel Hopkinson
The architect’s view:
Spatially, the original building felt like it had come straight from the Mad Men era with the original plans referring to Typewriting Room, Housecraft Room and Cookery Room. The new design elements introduce a glass thread through the building where the focus is not only learning through coursework but also developing social and communication skills through gathering spaces accessible to all.
This thread starts from the double height reception leading directly to a large learning resource with sculptural lighting, through social areas and into the college refectory. The interior language of the building has been further enhanced through drylining selected structural elements to bring a greater visual coherence. This device simply resolves the complex junctions of pipework, internal partitioning and new windows in existing apertures.
All these spaces benefit from large quantities of natural light with direct views to landscaped terraces and courtyards that have been tended to celebrate the mature planting and introduce contemporary social places with hardstanding, screening and benching by Planit landscape architecture. The grounds of the campus are a great environmental asset with the southern edge bordering the Mersey Valley green belt.
Consultation with neighbours, councillors and West Didsbury Resident’s Association brought a wealth of knowledge of the site’s flora and fauna including rare plant and bird species. The college’s continuing expansion of its sustainability curriculum will benefit directly from this natural resource.
The project had a tight programme, from initial discussions commencing in September 2008 to the building opening for Course Enrolment last week. The programme was placed under further pressure by the impact of the Learning & Skills Council (LSC) moratorium which lasted for a considerable period of 2009. The project was run under a traditional JCT contract allowing close Client and Design control which was of significant benefit to the project development. The success of the project’s delivery was due to the spirit of teamwork nurtured by the College’s estates director, Philip Whelan, and embraced by Wates Construction and their director John Shannon and his team.