IGS Interviews Mark Patterson of MAKE architects, an expert in the sustainable design of universities, amongst other things. The interview focuses on the Teaching and Learning Building, University of Nottingham, an inspiring learning environment that was designed to provide a focal point for the University Park campus. The new hub acts as a welcoming nexus for students as they move across the university’s new Learning Quarter.
IGS: Make Architects have led the design of some very prestigious universities. Your practice has completed winning projects at the Universities of Oxford, Stratford & Nottingham. What are the major challenges in designing new universities or redeveloping historic buildings and facilities? Particularly in the education sector, how do you ensure that designs respect the original concept and heritage while bringing them into this modern, smart era?
D.P: Yes, we have worked for a number of Universities, including completing multiple buildings for both the University of Oxford and the University of Nottingham across different campuses.
The challenges vary for each University, each has diverse aims and considerations. I would say the overlap is that each wishes to attract and retain the best staff and students by providing the best possible amenities. Academia is now a global market and standing out is much harder and much more important. Each university has its own vision in terms of how it wants to achieve this so understanding and interpreting their vision is one of the first priorities for any design team.
A key approach for us is stakeholder engagement. Again the form this takes varies between each University. At the Teaching and Learning Building in Nottingham we implemented a bespoke stakeholder engagement plan with the client and project manager that involved workshops, interviews and presentations to students, academics, Student Union, Estates and Facilities teams and more. This informed the layout, materials, distribution of uses, and detailed servicing management and maintenance strategies. Our engagement with students was particularly useful in determining what was needed to accommodate different needs, preferences, and study styles.
Our engagement with students was particularly useful in determining what was needed to accommodate different needs, preferences, and study styles
Another challenge would be working in close proximity to existing buildings, mature trees and services below ground. A large proportion of University work whether new build or redevelopment is on an existing campus with existing buildings, landscaping and services that need to be considered and included in the design. The Teaching and Learning Building is at the heart of one of the largest and most beautiful campuses in the UK with a number of mature trees in close proximity and two heritage buildings. We had to respond to the diverse scale and massing of these buildings and establish a relationship with the beautiful campus landscape.
We also have to consider the campus as a whole, the wider teaching accommodation, halls of residence, amenities and circulation, that the new buildings will work and enhance the wider context not act as individual silos.
IGS: The Teaching and Learning Building at the University of Nottingham was recently added to MAKE’s “academic” portfolio. The latest addition forms part of the 2014-2020 Capital Strategy Programme adopted by the University. It is clear the students are happy here, in particular, the sense of wellbeing can be attributed to the natural light that resonates throughout the building. The students say they prefer to use this space to study and revise rather than in the library. From your perspective, what are the most important factors and features of the Teaching and Learning Building?
D.P: The University of Nottingham was looking for a flagship building that would make a clear statement of excellence in education and place students at the centre of a creative collaborative community. The Teaching and Learning Building has been designed to provide a seamless transition between working, learning and socialising, to enhance the student experience as part of the University’s Global Vision 2020.
The building provides a much-needed focal point for the campus and a welcoming nexus for students as they move across the University’s new Learning Quarter. After studying the University’s Learning Quarter masterplan, we identified principal pedestrian routes adjacent to the site and connected them to the building to maximise permeability and provide accessibility from 360 degrees. These routes – which include the campus’s primary route, linked to two main entrances – converge within the building to form a top-lit atrium. This layout is designed to respond efficiently to the changing needs of students and teachers alike.
Inside are a number of double-height spaces filled with natural light and made of warm materials like architectural masonry. Views to the surrounding campus landscape ensure the building sits well within its setting; many spaces make use of glazing to blur the boundary between inside and outside.
The building provides new learning and social spaces that promote a strong sense of community and foster a creative environment for students and teachers. There is ample spaces for students to meet and socialise, arranged around seminar and study rooms, a lecture theatre, and a performing arts space. We provided a flexible framework for change through column-free floorplates which can be reconfigured in a variety of ways simply by adding or removing internal partitions; generous breakout areas with multiple functions; and movable furniture that lets students and teachers define their own interactive spaces.
IGS: Did the criteria and requirements you had to follow while designing this learning hub change much in the decade since your initial involvement with Nottingham University? We are particularly interested in the changing landscape, concepts of modern design, use of building materials, and sustainability?
D.P: What is interesting is that the primary aims of the University haven’t changed greatly since we began working for them back in 2005. They always target a high level of sustainability – usually BREEAM Excellent or above, this means
taking a number of factors into consideration, not bolt-on measures, but integrated into the very fabric of the building. At the TLB, we reduced its embodied carbon by designing the building to have a 60-plus-year life, using our bespoke green specification to responsibly source materials, and specifying high thermal mass materials such as CLT and concrete planks to regulate temperature. We used self-finished materials such as CLT, and eliminated additional finishes such as drying and painting to reduce VOCs.
We led detailed stakeholder engagements to get the balance right between high environmental performance and good daylight levels, thermal comfort and ease of use. Our design approach included developing a highperformance facade that carefully balances the glazing-to-solid ratio, minimising glare by recessing windows into the facade, and providing opening vents that passively ventilate the building. We also reduced energy use by designing robust, flexible spaces that can adapt as needs change. We offset our on-site carbon through site renewables such as photovoltaic arrays located on the roof. TLB has recently received an RIBA Award for Sustainability.
The University also prioritises value for money, looking to maximise their return on investment and create buildings that stand the test of time. The TLB was all about developing an adaptable building that was flexible in both the long and short term and could accommodate as many different learning styles as possible. In recent years there has been a greater emphasis on student experience, flexibility and buildings which are simple to use and operate.
I’d say the University definitely aspires to deliver distinctive buildings which have a unique identity to help them stand out in a global market. The Jubilee Campus is a worldclass centre of research, study, business and leisure where we were asked to design several new spaces that would expand the campus’s facilities and serve as a dramatic focal point for the whole site. At the University’s Sutton Bonington Campus, we delivered a visionary environmentally friendly design for an agricultural research building – using the University’s own straw in an external curtain wall system, the largest of its kind in the UK at the time. And now on the main City campus, we have delivered TLB, at the heart of the campus which is a flagship learning space for the University as a whole.
This interview was published in IGS Magazines Summer 2019 Issue: Read the full Magazine here
David has more than 20 years’ experience as an architect, with an extensive portfolio of built schemes in the education and research sector. He’s led a range of major projects for Make since joining in 2005, including the design and delivery of six buildings for University of Nottingham.
David is an active member of Higher Education Design Quality Forum (HEDQF), vice-chair of the RIBA London Council and chair of the RIBA South East London Awards. He also teaches at Central Saint Martins.
Architect: MAKE ARCHITECTS
Structural Engineer: AKT II
MEP Engineers: MAX FORDHAM
Project Management: GLEEDS
Cost Consultant: AECOM
Photo Credits: (c) Martine Hamilton Knight