Behind the crafted ceramic exterior is a new student community
The first VITA development in Leeds, St Albans Place is a 7,11 and 18 storey serviced apartment building which brings a sense of home and belonging to its residents. The 376 studios range from 20m2 to 34m2. Each one contains kitchen and ensuite facilities and is well planned to feel spacious and have impressive views across the city. At ground floor and mezzanine level is a student Hub where residents can build friendships and connect with their city. Facilities include a gym, shared social areas and study spaces as well as a proposed new restaurant/bar intended to open out into New Briggate Park.
In the north east of Leeds City Centre, St Albans Place is of simple and elegant proportions. The building is a gateway to a developing cluster of tall buildings and student accommodation. Its bronze ceramic façade is a subtle nod to Leeds traditional industries, creating an elegant form on the skyline that responds to the changing light.
Wellbeing at the heart of the student experience
The building is designed to offer a homely and a safe environment with opportunities for students to live comfortably, build friendships and feel part of their community. The student rooms themselves are quiet havens benefiting from ensuites, kitchen facilities and study space within well-daylit, mixed mode ventilated spaces. With openable windows and near blackout blinds each student has control of their private space.
These private spaces are complemented by ‘The Hub’ – a series of generous communal areas, which encourage interaction between the students through organised and organic activities. Planned evenings of activities are structured daily, a movie room, flexible social spaces and a bookable self-catering dining space for personal celebrations all help to form the basis of a supportive student community. A range of private and shared study spaces helps foster opportunities for team working, and awareness of peer well-being.
The approach to the building, through New Briggate Park, is intended to bring a sense of nature to the residents daily and hard landscaping at the entrance to the building is designed to encourage gathering and informal encounters.
The site is part of the ‘New Briggate Vision’ regeneration area, which has endured a longstanding history of unsuccessful planning decisions. The site is located in a dominant position within the city, visible from a number of historic locations and with wide views from the motorway approach into Leeds. Great care was given to the appropriateness of scale, particularly with the acknowledgment that the proposals would establish the now emerging tower skyline at the fringe of the city centre’s Grand Quarter conservation area.
Within an overgrown and underused park, the site was previously a carpark with views to the motorway. The tripartite building now gives a sense of enclosure to the park, sheltering it from the noise and visual connection to the motorway.
Following the relandscaping of the park as part of the project, it is now a successful, safe and managed public green space with vastly improved public realm among retained mature trees and has been transformative to the area. New Briggate Park is one in a series of green spaces which together create a pedestrian and cycle route across Northwest Leeds. The new landscape has introduced a further seven tree species and 23 new species of shrub and bulb planting to the park, supporting the existing insect and bird life on site.
Now forming the gateway to an emerging student accommodation quarter to the north east of the city, this project has been strategically important to Leeds in freeing up much needed family accommodation.
Woven façade: Twenty first century craftsmanship
Leeds is the former home of the renowned ceramics manufacturer Burmantofts; tiles, fine terracotta and decorative faience made in Leeds have been extensively used in the decoration of buildings locally, nationally and internationally. Leeds was also at the heart of the UK’s woollen and textile industry during the industrial revolution.
Drawing on Leeds’ traditional architectural ceramic and fabric industries, the façade design of St Albans Place has pursued the narrative of a woven façade, using the familiar material in a contemporary and innovative way. The ‘warp’ and ‘weft’ of vertical and horizontal strands appear interlayered, with the bespoke glazed ceramic extruded tiles producing contrasting strands of varying texture and reflectance from a single palette of colour. The overall built form is articulated as three parts; two ‘lower shoulders’ and a central tower, where the variance of pattern and colour contrasts subtly.
The refinement of colour specifically used the pooling nature of ceramic glaze to intensify tones within the curves of the bespoke panels. Through technical development with manufacturers NBK, a common tonal range across two contrasting glazes was established, creating a family of elements to reflect changes in daylight and season. The resulting façade is intricate and alluring when seen close-up, yet legible from afar.
Throughout the development of the ceramic tiles, optimisation took place to address environmental concerns about embodied carbon and waste. This process greatly reduced the types of ceramic extrusions - aiding site logistics and limiting the number of surplus tiles required. Developing a single fired glazed tile that met the brief for colour depth, translucency and variety improved on the twice fired process, significantly reducing the embodied carbon of the ceramic.