Higher education chiefs have approved funding for a scheme critical to preserving Denys Lasdun’s Grade II-listed Teaching Wall block in Norwich
The University of East Anglia’s council agreed to release £65 million for construction of local practice LSI’s proposed Sky House plans, which will house staff and students decanted from Lasdun’s 50-year-old teaching block while work to protect it takes place.
The Brutalist structure, completed in 1970, requires ‘very significant investment’ to keep it ‘safe, secure and fit for the future’ according to the university.
This work is likely to take at least a decade but the first step has been taken with the decision to press on with LSI’s adjacent scheme.
As well as teaching and seminar spaces, the Sky House will contain informal learning areas, a language learning lab, drama studios, a café, offices and a reception among other facilities. From 2022, it will become home to the arts and humanities departments as well as some social science schools.
The university’s vice-chancellor David Richardson said: ‘Investing in our UEA campus means investing in our people and the spaces they need to work, learn, study and teach both now and in the future.
‘The Sky House will be the new gateway to UEA for visitors and provide collaborative and communal working spaces for our staff and students.’
A total of £300 million has been earmarked to prepare the campus for the demands of the future.
The University of East Anglia was founded in 1960, and Lasdun was commissioned as consultant architect in April 1962.
Historic England says on its website: ‘The site was 66ha of parkland on the edge of Norwich, used by the local authority as a golf course and flanked by the River Yare, dammed to form a lake (or broad) in 1977. Lasdun was determined to preserve the flat, marshy and very open valley landscape and the line of ziggurats placed where the valley begins to rise is part of this.’
It adds that the continuous teaching block – aimed at creating a compact complex – was inspired by North American models.
‘The accommodation was designed to bring all the teaching together, representative of the belief of vice chancellor Frank Thistlethwaite and the Academic Planning Board that the most productive areas of research were at the boundaries between subjects, and that much was to be gained by study in schools of related subjects.’
Lasdun, a student at the Architectural Association in the 1930s, is best known for designing the National Theatre on London’s South Bank. He died in 2001 aged 86.
No architect has yet been chosen for the refurbishment of his Teaching Wall.
Subject to planning permission, LSI’s Sky House project could begin on site next spring, with enabling works getting underway this summer.
LSI Architects 1 to 500 model of the Sky House at UEA
Source: LSI Architects
The form of The Sky House is informed and inspired by Denys Lasdun. The massing, linearity and steeping of the building’s form are echoes of shapes seen in the Teaching Wall. The wings of The Sky House rise in heights to maximise sunlight within the building and also give space and distance between the distinctive end of the Teaching Wall and the new building; the building has a distinctive sculptural appearance that complements the massing and silhouettes formed by the Teaching Wall and other Lasdun buildings.
The form and arrangement of the building are also informed by its context, and key views to and from the site, enabling significant views and connections to Earlham Park, across the campus to the east and south. The stepping of the building also allows the views to the registry tower to be seen on arrival and from Earlham Park.
While responding to its context and relating to its architectural heritage, the Sky House will also create a new face for the university. The sculptural form and proportions of the building provide compositions of solid and void to the elevations with a vertical emphasis. The external fabric will be a light coloured modified concrete cladding with splayed recesses to openings creating a distinctive pattern to the facades.
The Sky House is being developed on sustainable design principles. This will be a low-energy, thermally efficient building, maximising the use of natural daylight and ventilation, using natural materials with low embodied carbon wherever possible. This strategic thinking combined with framing views out to nature – to the sky and the wider campus in its natural parkland setting – will create a sense of wellbeing for staff and students.
The internal arrangement of the building will be light and airy, providing spaces that are adaptable and flexible, and designed for collaboration and thinking without borders. Spaces will be organised to give identity to the variety of schools and departments and create a sense of community, allowing social connections for sharing ideas.
Mirja Mainwaring, director, LSI Architects