Previously split across various buildings on the campus, the new zinc-clad building consolidates three different departments of the School – drama, film and visual arts – under one roof.
The £6.6 million project comprises drama rehearsal studios, art gallery, film and edit suites, a postgraduate centre, academic offices, administrative facilities and supporting services.
When Hawkins\Brown won the commission in 2007 they were praised by the competition jury for their vision for new centre as an integrated department. The jury commented: “Five architects have designed beautiful buildings, but only Hawkins\Brown have designed a School of Drama, Film and Visual Arts.”
The award-winning practice has created a gateway building for the campus on the site of a former roundabout. Working in collaboration with landscape designer Farrer Huxley, the two practices have cleverly inserted two new squares within the heart of the campus.
With the formal qualities of a town square the new landscaping at the front of the building provides an arrival point on the campus, with links to the Student Union building opposite. A second square connects the new School of Arts to the University’s Architecture Department and offers students substantial outdoor space to display, perform and showcase their artwork, offering the opportunity for collaboration between the two departments.
The building is wrapped entirely in tiled zinc cladding and punctured regularly with recessed openings. This façade treatment responds to the muted language and blockwork module of the adjacent 1960s Marlowe building.
A flush glazed high specification curtain walling system provides a datum around the building, bringing natural daylight into the circulation spaces and offering views into the ground and first floor of the building. Solar shading is provided through the use of encapsulated zinc mesh within the system, negating the requirement for any applied projected external shading, which would disrupt the building’s seamless form.
Two sets of emergency staircases, enclosed in a dressing of zinc mesh (and eventually climbing plants), flank the building. They work to soften the building’s solidity.
Inside, the offices, lecture rooms, communal areas, dance, drama area and art studios are arranged around a spacious and north-lit 3-storey
atrium. Hawkins\Brown worked in close collaboration with Arup to provide a predominantly natural ventilated building using stack effect chimneys within the generous double and triple height spaces. Mechanical ventilation is kept to a minimum, used only within the Film Department where acoustics and high levels of control are required. Due to the nature of the building the separate internal volumes provide the ability to control environments individually as appropriate to their use.
The building’s simple yet bold square plan beguiles the intricately arranged internal spaces. Box-like rooms, mostly double-height, individually cater for the distinct and separate environments appropriate to each of the departments.
The central atrium accommodates a robust steel staircase with link spaces that provide informal meeting and social spaces encouraging interaction between the students and staff from the different departments. A distinctive but neutral colour palette of black, white and grey helps to bring order to a series of spaces that are full of energy and activity. This neutral background is highlighted by flashes of bright red in the form of a ‘family’ of furniture; glossy red chairs, geometric soft sofas, fatboy beanbags, and deck chairs are scattered throughout the building. Red fluorescent baton lights and neon signage in the foyer spaces complement the interior architecture. A loose composition of spherical light fittings cascades through the light well, visually connecting the levels with a cloud of light.
At roof level, offices for the academics are arranged around a roof terrace offering an outdoor meeting/teaching space. Although proportionally much smaller than the ‘box-like’ rooms on other floors, each office features a full-height window wide and tall enough for a person to stand against, thereby introducing a human scale to the building.
Hawkins\Brown’s design ultimately offers a flexible container for various uses, within which the School of Arts can grow and adapt in time.
“The School of Arts succeeds in terms of both its architectural presence on the university campus and of its interiors, which reinforce a sense of community in teachers and students, who benefit from well-delivered studios for drama, film and visual arts. Above the perimeter clusters of staff offices are accessible and well-lit and surround the heart of the schools which is three storey open atrium, which has tough finishes of steel and timber to the balustrades. A simple internal colour palette of red, black, white and grey has been adopted, while externally zinc shingle sheets predominate as a self-finished cladding which should still look good over time. This building demonstrates how good design can improve learning and is an exemplar for future campus architecture.” RIBA Awards 2010 Jury citation