AHR joins the few architects to have designed a new architecture school, with its Faculty of Engineering & Design at Bath University
Architect AHR’s new flagship building for the Faculty of Engineering & Design at the University of Bath is among the few purpose-designed UK architecture schools to be built in recent decades, and follows Portsmouth (Colin Stansfield Smith), the University of Lincoln (Rick Mather) and the Bartlett refurbishment (Hawkins Brown). The Bath building is centred on three-double height studio spaces in which architecture and engineering students can work together in a collaborative environment, alongside modelmaking workshops, reprographics and 3D printing facilities, exhibition areas and academic offices.
The building, which occupies a prime site on the Claverton Down campus, provides design and research space for 400 students and 35 offices for academic staff and flexible research spaces for postgraduate engineering students. AHR faced particular challenges in ensuring the project complied with local policies in the context of Bath’s UNESCO world heritage status. In this respect, the materials were chosen to be non-reflective and muted so as to complement the parkland setting.
The construction employs a pattern of precast concrete frame elements repeated across a bronze aluminium-clad structure. The expressed frame is intended to provide a cohesive backdrop to the parkland setting, with its south facade modelled to cast deep shadows. The building has been designed with adaptability and future proofing in mind, with raised floors, oversized risers accessed directly from circulation spaces and spare capacity and loading designed into rooftop plant enclosures.
The double-height studios are intended to provide uplifting spaces to encourage creativity and collaboration. The furniture layout includes shelving for exploratory models, large desk areas for each student, multiple power and data points as well as lockers for students to store computer equipment and materials overnight. All design decisions were geared to allow students to take possession of the space and encourage day-to day studio work and collaboration more like a design practice in preparation for life beyond university. The robust finishes include resin floors, exposed concrete, extensive boards for pin-up and open-mesh shelving, with acoustically absorbent timber slatted wall panels and timber slatted ceiling rafts throughout.
The building was designed with adaptability and future proofing in mind, with raised floors, oversize risers (accessed directly from circulation spaces) and space capacity. Loading designed into the rooftop plant enclosures will help ensure that the infrastructure of the building is capable of radical adaptation. The three studio spaces, equipped to cater for up to 600 engineering and architecture students, are double-height with academic offices on a partial mezzanine, which would enable future mezzanine decks to be added if more space is needed.
In terms of environmental control, where possible users control their spaces, while in the larger multi-occupancy spaces BMS controls are utilised. Working draft user guides, produced throughout the design, were issued as part of the ‘soft landings’ process. A ‘Spirit of BREEAM’ approach was adopted, and the building features rooftop photovoltaic panels, natural ventilation wherever possible, optimum natural light and sustainable materials that require minimal maintenance.
The landscaping plan enhances the existing linearity of the ‘east-west’ layout of the campus and provides an enhanced ‘edge’ to the parkland. The linear route, along with the future development area to the east, connects the Sports Training Village, bus stop and Centre for the Arts to the park to the west, via the lake and onwards to the Parade. Users of the building and campus are connected to the University’s ‘front lawn’ area via this route. The immediate landscape at ground level consists of a simple, paved linear route wide enough for a cafe style break out and a pedestrian route. The ground-floor facade incorporates large folding doors to open up this connection in good weather and is also fully glazed for a visual connection to the gallery throughout the year.