In 2017, a new University Strategy was launched to offer strategic direction for Durham University over a ten-year period. FaulknerBrowns were engaged to inform and support this strategy with the development of a new University Masterplan. Central to the new University Strategy and Masterplan was the provision of enhanced teaching and learning facilities to support an increase in student numbers, enable the adoption of new pedagogies, and to create facilities that could be shared by all students rather than be aligned to specific faculties or departments.
Independent research by FaulknerBrowns into how spatial design can support the success of innovative pedagogies, informed the development of a teaching and learning ‘space model’ which became the basis for the accommodation brief for the building.
A top-lit central courtyard forms the social and circulation hub of the building giving access to the café, 250 and 500 seat lecture theatres, seminar spaces and project rooms. A diverse mix of teaching spaces surrounds the lecture theatres, supporting traditional seminars as well as macro-collaboration and micro-collaboration pedagogies. Cellular project rooms provide an extremely valuable ‘workplace like’ environment for self-guided group work and support innovative pedagogies such as flipped learning. The vaulted top floor of the centre provides an extensive ‘learning commons’ with a broad range of settings for focused, contemplative, active and collaborative learning.
Durham is an historic city and its UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing the cathedral and castle, exerts a strong influence over the character of the university estate. The site chosen for the teaching and learning centre is situated on the edge of the city centre, adjacent to a conservation area and within view of the World Heritage Site.
In this highly sensitive location the incorporation of an 8,000m2, three storey building presented a challenge. To ensure the new centre integrated sensitively with the urban fabric, the overall building volume was broken down into an assemblage of smaller repeated elements to relate more closely to the prevailing grain of the city.
A three-storey module with a 15x18m footprint was established as the building block from which the centre was formed. Each module has two façade types: a ‘fenestrated’ façade generally on the long face, and a ‘gable’ façade to the short face. Each module is capped by an asymmetric pyramidal roof with a central rooflight. Twelve of these modules, rotated and handed, create the overall plan layout and building volume, with one of the central elements being ‘removed’ to create a focal internal courtyard.
The dynamic roof profile not only delivers complexity and interest in the external form, it also creates a series of dramatic top-lit ceiling coffers to the upper level learning commons - a modern interpretation of the traditional reading room. Full height windows provide views to the surrounding mature campus landscape and glimpses of the city’s iconic cathedral.
A simple, durable and elegant palette of materials give character to the centre’s exterior. Randers Tegl handmade facing bricks, in a combination of buff and grey, form the predominant external material, with deep reveals framing modular window units which unify darker toned glazed panels, louvres and Rieder Fibre-C infill cladding. The pyramidal roofs are finished in traditional standing seamed zinc sheet to contrast with the tones of the brickwork below and respond appropriately to the conservation setting.
An integrated technology and sustainability strategy was central to the university’s vision for the teaching and learning centre. The centre has therefore been designed to BREEAM ‘Excellent’ standard and to deliver EPC ‘A’ rated energy performance.
Thin film photovoltaics embedded within the courtyard roof glazing, together with a combined heat and power unit, make a significant contribution to onsite renewable energy generation. In the longer term, the building will be connected to the planned university energy network which will balance demand and maximise the benefit of grid decarbonisation. A mixed-mode ventilation strategy is also employed. Natural ventilation is provided from the louvre panels next to the windows, controlled by the Building Management System. Transfer grilles in the rear of the teaching spaces exhaust warm air to the atrium where it is discharged through the rooflights via natural stack effect.
Since opening for the start of the 2019-20 academic year the building has established itself as a hugely popular facility for teaching and learning, which has been embraced by students and academics alike. The centre is helping the university realise its global ambition to be at the forefront of innovations in the teaching and learning experience, enabling the adoption of new and innovative pedagogies, and becoming a focal venue for academic life.
Designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects and delivered by Space Architects and Galliford Try, the building demonstrates the benefits of a collaborative approach to design and construction.
FaulknerBrowns are a creative, international design studio experienced in making buildings and places where people do better. We use this experience to question traditional typologies, challenging what a particular building might look like, how it might be used, and the ways it can impact society.
We are recognised for our work in architectural design and placemaking. Our team of over ninety architects, designers and technologists deliver projects of varying scale and complexity for clients internationally. Established in Newcastle in 1962, a studio culture of innovation and research has been a cornerstone of our process from day one.
Our buildings and places are consistently recognised for their design quality by the world’s most respected awarding bodies. Ultimately their legacy is defined by an ability to inspire and elevate people for generations, delivering social value in a sustainable manner.
Learn more at www.faulknerbrowns.com.