Named The Dyson Building after its benefactor, this new center brings the sciences and arts together
Art and science can coexist. And, when fused together, they can transform architecture into a teaching tool in its own right. A working example is the new STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics – hub at Gresham’s School, Norfolk, designed by WilkinsonEyre. It was funded by an £18.75 million gift from alumnus Sir James Dyson. The center has been named The Dyson Building in his honor.
Located next to the original school complex and chapel, the building can be seen as a landmark in the redefinition of traditional school architecture. The design is distinguished by a pronounced openness to the outdoors and a focus on nature. In fact, nature is an integral part of the façades, with creepers wrapped around the exposed steel structure and covering entire portions of it. The boundaries between inside and out, between nature and building, are therefore blurred or even imperceptible. This reflects the goal to make the interior a welcoming environment for both students and teachers, both of whom are offered a range of spaces for exchange, creativity, and collaboration. Besides the more traditional classrooms, the new STEAM building has laboratories with sophisticated technologies (such as robotics and artificial intelligence tools); flexible, multifunctional spaces that can be adapted as needed; an auditorium; and highly configurable workshops. Integration between tech intended more for the sciences and art objects is made possible in spaces with the same configurations, particularly in the central area of the building. Here an “auditorium staircase” connects the two levels, on the first of which there are tables, and hallways that have been stylishly and harmoniously equipped as places for recreation and eating, as well as teaching. In this way, teaching can step outside the classroom, making The Dyson Building an educational ecosystem, with soft colors and extensive use of wood, in which students can immerse themselves for the day.
“The world needs radical and creative ideas,” says Dyson. “Having art and design in the same building as engineering, science, and math introduces the notion that engineering and science are creative careers. WilkinsonEyre’s floor-to-ceiling glass and wide corridors evoke a sense of adventure, and the auditorium staircase encourages discussion and integration of the disciplines within.”
The connecting thread running through the entire project is openness – the openness of the classrooms as large, multifunctional spaces, as well as the openness of the building to outside, with its garden and other buildings. The large windows play a fundamental role in this, as do the small courtyards created in setback sections of each façade. This is another invitation to take teaching outside the classroom, as are the benches in the courtyard and the other amenitized areas, and the lightness of the façades themselves, regularly punctuated by exposed steel. The two-level structure is clad with oxidized copper panels alternating with glass. The scale of the building also mirrors the nearby chapel, built in 1916.
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The architects gave special attention to the sustainability and energy efficiency of the structure, which features a natural ventilation system and photovoltaic panels. Natural light levels are improved by sun control and shading devices.
All these characteristics reflect a particular philosophy that the studio has been following for some time:
“At WilkinsonEyre, we constantly draw inspiration from both art and science - commented project director Yasmin Al-Ani Spence -. So, it’s been a privilege to work on a scheme that will provide contemporary teaching spaces for the investigation of the sciences and the arts simultaneously that will enhance critical thinking and promote innovation. The building itself – through the clarity and honesty of design and construction – becomes a teaching tool in its own right.”
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Location: Norfolk, UK
Photography by Peter Landers, courtesy of Peter Landers Photography and WilkinsonEyre