This year six higher education schemes have won RIBA National Awards - a sector which has been a bright spot in the recent economic downturn writes Robin Nicholson
With 162 UK universities attended by 2.34 million students, 425,000 of whom arrive from abroad, we live in a knowledge economy that is every bit as important for the future of the UK as financial services. The 24 Russell Group public research universities alone will spend £9 billion in the four years to 2016 to generate £44.3 billion at present-day rates over the next 25 years.
A bright spot in the recent economic downturn was the amount of higher education projects let. There are three dimensions to these - new build expansion, refurbishment of existing buildings and reduction of carbon footprints (all universities have to have carbon reduction strategies). Location is a factor but, given the competitive market, there ought to be a much higher weight given to designing the public realm of campuses to create a sense of place and, where possible, integration with the surrounding city. The significance of the quality of campus design was made in CABE’s 2005 research document Design with distinction: the value of good building design in higher education. But the recession saw fees cut to the bone and risk offloaded to contractors, at huge, unproductive cost.
Nevertheless, a university building usually finds its way onto the annual RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist. In 2012, Stanton Williams’ gleaming Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge won, and the 2013 ceremony was held in its reused granaries for Central St Martins. This year’s AJ Retrofit Awards has a gratifying 17 entries in this sector.
Making better use of existing buildings is not only good value, but becomes essential within the global perspective of increasingly limited construction resources and a growing awareness that carbon credentials need to include both embodied and operational carbon. One’s position in the students’ Green League, an annual comparison of institutions’ sustainability credentials, matters, too.
I recently went with a group from Reading to look at Delft School of Architecture, as DEGW co-founder John Worthington was keen for us to see how they had re-occupied a redundant faculty building following the 2008 destruction by fire of their celebrated Van den Broek and Bakema-designed 1970 building. Although some in the faculty wanted a competition for another iconic building, within three months they had refurbished half the former chemistry building and within another three the other half; they now have a whopping 36,000m² but, more importantly they had rethought the 21st century faculty in and around an existing building - interdisciplinary and convivial.
‘Business as usual’ is not an option for universities as fees increase the competition and force students to make better use of their time; globally, online courses are threatening the status quo too. But what an opportunity we have to design for collaborative research with industry, rethink the fabric, reimagine the spaces between buildings, change their image and dramatically improve energy performance.
Robin Nicholson, senior partner, Cullinan Studio
Ortus, London by Duggan Morris Architects
It is a testament to its bold client vision, humane architectural approach and intelligent environmental design that this building is becoming an international educational hub for mental healthcare. By expanding the central stair to contain a stepped informal lecture area and organising all cellular spaces around half-landings, the architects have created a flowing environment that encourages social interaction. It is also beautifully crafted and there are very few applied finishes internally.
Client Maudsley Charity
Contractor Cavendish Berkeley Projects
Contract value £4.65 million
Gross internal area 1,500m²
Region London South
John Henry Brookes Building by Design Engine Architects
The building has a personality that is evident throughout and has achieved immediate impact and popularity. Despite being big, it is very easy to navigate and move around. The elevated entrance is highly engaging, with the careful selection of complementary materials and high-quality, stimulating finishes, resulting in generous, well-used public areas. A new public route has a free-flowing, comfortable atmosphere with coffee shops and hang-out areas; it almost feels like a street.
Client Oxford Brookes University
Contractor Laing O’Rourke
Contract value Undisclosed
Gross internal area 24,320m²
London Library by Haworth Tompkins
The project brings together departments previously split across the site. The improvements have been made in a way that is seamless with the existing fabric, while the greatest possible care has been taken to ensure the library retains its particular atmosphere. There are many thoughtful details, surprising uses of materials, charming readers’ lamps and careful reuse of existing fabric, all typical of this practice’s particular skill in creating a sense of continuity of use. (AJ 08.07.10)
Client London Library
Contract value £10.7 million
Gross internal area 3,000m²
Region London West
Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, London School of Economics by O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects
An object lesson in mobilising limitations of a site into a surprising and original building (above). A building like this requires a high degree of craftsmanship and care, and one feels this was achieved through the sheer willpower of the architects. It has a striking appearance while at the same time fitting happily into its context. Similarly, it has a complex and unusual plan form that accommodates functions with ease. (AJ 28.02.14)
Client LSE Estates Division
Contractor Geoffrey Osborne
Contract value £24.1 million
Gross internal area 6,100m²
Region London West
Manchester School of Art by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
This major refurbishment and extension (top right) has been executed with great skill. Design excellence is coupled with the brief of a visionary client to break down traditional art and design units, encouraging staff and students to work together and explore common ground.The ‘vertical gallery’ enables students and visitors to perambulate up gently rising flying staircases. This is a building where the exploration of design and creativity will flourish. (AJ 29.11.13)
Client Manchester Metropolitan University
Contractor Morgan Sindall
Contract value £23.6 million
Gross internal area 17,320m²
Region North West
Rambert, South Bank, London by Allies and Morrison
Rambert’s new home (above) will eventually form part of a terrace as dictated by Coin Street Community Builders’ master-plan. Its dance studio spaces, three of them double-height, are arranged on a split level to the front and back of a central zone, the upper two floors of which contain an external courtyard. The jury was impressed by the seemingly effortless crispness of the detailing and deep attention to dancers’ needs within ancillary areas, both achieved within a surprisingly low budget.
Contractor Vinci Construction UK
Contract value Undisclosed
Gross internal area 3,465m²
Region London South
RIBA Awards winners 2014: Campus