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Preaching what you practise

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The Bartlett’s deep retrofit should further green teaching, says Hattie Hartman

‘The Bartlett School of Architecture’s Wates House is arguably the worst building on the UCL estate.’ Such was the pronouncement of director of University College London (UCL) estates Andrew Grainger at an event hosted by Hawkins\Brown for Open-City’s recent Green Sky Thinking week.

During an informative session, the project team shared the design process that has led to the current proposal for a deep retrofit of the building, due to be submitted imminently for planning.

Dean Alan Penn described the 1970s Wates House as an ‘ordinary’ concrete frame and breeze block building with sliding sash windows and radiators - nobody feels precious about it, yet its creative output is enormous, with over 10,000 people attending the degree show annually. Originally designed for 350 students, today the Bartlett numbers 350 staff and 2,000 students spread over eight buildings.

The brief called for a building that will bring the whole faculty under one roof, that will provide an individual workspace for every student and create spaces for social interaction. Three options were explored: ‘light touch’ retrofit, deep retrofit and new-build.

A whole life carbon appraisal over 60 years showed the deep retrofit and new-build options to be roughly comparable, while the light touch approach unsurprisingly had a smaller carbon footprint. But light touch was not viable because both the cladding and the mechanical plant needed renewing, and the Bartlett is seeking to double its current accommodation; possible only by restructuring and extending the building.

In the end, the programme was a major driver for a deep retrofit approach. Students will be decanted to a warehouse building in Camden - in a building due to be demolished to make way for HS2, which means the new building must be completed within an approximately two-year timeframe.

UCL sees the new Bartlett as an exemplar. ‘We have a responsibility to demonstrate how to do quality retrofit. We have 200 people at the UCL Energy Institute. It would be a disaster for us to do anything less than exemplary. It is in retrofit that innovation is most needed,’ says Penn.

The new building also raises the thorny question of how the school educates the next generation of architects. At the AJ’s own Green Sky Thinking event, Yeoryia Manolopoulou of AY Architects, who has taught at the Bartlett since 1994, bemoaned the trend towards specialisms; advocating greater integration of passive design thinking into studio teaching. The Bartlett is not alone. At the same event, Sarah Wigglesworth confessed to being shocked at how unembedded green thinking is at the University of Sheffield.

Cloud9’s Enric Ruiz-Geli (AJ Footprint 30.05.14) recently observed the same about his Part 2 students at the Architectural Association, despite the school’s long-standing and flourishing MSc programme in environmental design. Black Architecture’s Paul Hinkin pointed out the merits of the joint teaching of architects and engineers at the University of Bath, an approach championed in the Farrell Review.

Buildings are not teachers, but a faculty of architecture embodies current aspirations. Last year UCL was one of four universities named as a Centre of Excellence for sustainable building design. The Bartlett’s new building provides a fresh opportunity to push this agenda forward through more interdisciplinary teaching.

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