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College and university: civic centres for the 21st century?

by Philip Watson, UK Design Director at Atkins

Posted by Rob Bertels | December 11, 2017 | People, policy, politics, money

When the Heritage Lottery Fund’s deputy Director of Strategy, Karen Brookfield, shared an anecdote about the body's research into perceptions of the dichotomy between community and university, a window of opportunity opened. Of the assortment of obstructions to a mutually beneficial union of the two, it was the latter’s “intimidating” characteristic she articulated first.

To the designer of the community hub of Harraby Campus in Carlisle, recently highly commended in the Architects’ Journal Architecture Awards, who described the 14-week community engagement period as “enlightening,” Brookfield’s choice of word comes as no surprise. Atkins’ Associate Architect, Scott Dickson, found that it was in interactions with stakeholders aged three years to 90, that his vision of the Harraby Campus as a “multi-area settlement or neighbourhood,” displaying motifs familiar to the diverse end user groups, began taking shape.

“A campus is a little neighbourhood, with the notions of public and private domains attached. The community part is the town with the café, which is the heartbeat of the space.

Scott said: “Historically, the diverse community groups now housed at the campus had their own buildings. They left their beloved buildings to come into a new space and that might have been negative. Also, once you relocate several groups into one space, that building can begin to become a supermarket-sized structure. What we did not want was the individual identities of those groups getting subsumed into some giant faceless, factory-like structure.”

To this end, Harraby took the form of a “little settlement or a community of buildings”. Even from a distance, pupils are able to pinpoint their own classrooms thanks to the intentional distinction. In that sense, their classroom becomes like their own homes – instantly recognisable and familiar – the farthest contrast to ‘intimidating’ it would be possible to achieve.

“A campus is a little neighbourhood, with the notions of public and private domains attached. The community part is the town with the café, which is the heartbeat of the space. Creating footfall within that neighbourhood and its shared areas encourages more and more activity. What springs from that is sustainability of the wider community it serves,” Scott added. 

Since everyone enters Harraby’s community hub through the same door, which in time, will increases each individual’s familiarity with the others using the space. In turn, socialising will be encouraged and the sense of community enhanced. Within the school, glazing divides three-classroom clusters and break out space with inbuilt furniture is neither closed off or isolated from the campus’ units. There is always a connection to the neighbours, as well as a visual connection to the outdoors.  

 

HCD principles promote positive learning experience

Ensuring indoor environments are both physically and psychologically good underpins the architect’s and designer’s drive to create spaces that lend themselves to modern collaborative learning methodology.

An innovative take on the skylight style of window, the so-called beacons of Harraby Campus pivot on Atkins standards in terms of user wellbeing. Viewed from the school gate, the beacons appear as lanterns set atop the classrooms’ pitched rooves. The beacons guarantee a constant flood of daylight into the building while children learn. It’s the kind of sound thinking the Heschong Mahone Group promoted in its 1999 study: ‘An investigation into the relationship between daylight and human performance,’ during which researchers found that daylight accelerates the learning process up to 26%.

“In the schools where we have delivered this new kind of approach, post occupancy evaluation shows that it is getting results. There’s less absenteeism and, if children are attending their schools more, it shows that they are more engaged

Atkins UK Design Director, Philip Watson, says: “To ensure all pupils would be situated in well-lit space, we designed the classrooms to BREEAM excellence standards.  In that, no pupil is seated more than seven metres away from a window.  The design goal, which our post evaluations show we met, was to provide uniform light in the classroom. Similarly, the fresh air circulating the building from its cross-ventilation system was designed to ensure the greater well-being of the building’s users. Not only do these beacons mean no one child is disadvantaged by their position within the classroom, they provide the cross-ventilation for the building – which reduces the energy burden on the building owners.”

Each lantern draws natural air into the building in a controlled way, and Philip adds, “a 2003 study by Vivian Loftness et al. found that productivity increases 11% from air quality.' What universities can learn from the arrangement of space at Carlisle’s Harraby School is that we are able to design intimate areas for learning which meet the same standards as classrooms in terms of a good physical and psychological environment.

“In the schools where we have delivered this new kind of approach, post occupancy evaluation shows that it is getting results. There’s less absenteeism and, if children are attending their schools more, it shows that they are more engaged. Behaviour within them improves and the school becomes more popular. Results improve too. There is never a loss of connection.'

Break out areas are glazed and transparent which is an example of how primary schools are trying to personalise the learning experience. “There, you have at least one teaching assistant in the classroom, who will use intimate spaces outside the classroom for one to one or small group learning activities. So, instead of pupils being corralled somewhere invisible to the class for their one-on-ones, everyone still feels part of that learning community.'

As the associate architect for this forward-thinking multi-agency campus, Scott Dickson says: “creating a sense of community was hugely important”.

'A building does not simply become a community building just because you label it that. That building needs diverse community groups to feel it is theirs, and that there is space for them to do their own thing, but they also need to have space to meet one another. If people don’t meet and socialise, they might as well be in a different space entirely.” 

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