Main Contractor: Miller Construction
M&E Engineering: KJ Tait Engineers
Structural Engineering: Halcrow Group
Quantity Surveyor: Turner Townsend
Landscape Architects: Horner + MacLennan
Acoustician: New Acoustics
Fire Engineering: Safe Consulting
Planning Consultant: GVA Grimley
Breeam Consultant: AECOM
Client: Forth Valley College
The project in its entirety is for two new campus buildings (Alloa and Stirling) and a masterplan for the HQ campus in Falkirk, this was won by Reiach and Hall through a competitive interview process involving producing designs to an outline brief. On appointment we commenced a three month brief development period for both new campuses involving interviewing all academic departments along with administration and support staff. The process allowed the evolution of a comprehensive set of briefing documents which were fully understood by all parties and took on board all concerns. It was also an opportunity to get to know the College, its staff and the way it works.
Any education building requires a number of different types of space – space for group (class) teaching, space for group study, space for individual study, space for reflection etc. It is of value for at least some of these space types to be available out of doors as well as inside the building.
In Alloa the brief itself describes a multi-disciplinary FE campus building – workshops, specialist and general classrooms, and common facilities such as refectory, library/resource centre, gym and student services (advice) centre. A suite of four spaces (three classrooms and a breakout area) was specifically requested to be designed to be available for public use, along with the refectory, which was envisaged to be always open to the public.
A particular requirement of the brief was that designers should consider the relationship of the College building to the town of Alloa. The site is considerably more central and prominent than the existing campus and the intention was to increase the College’s level of interaction with and assimilation into the locality.
The Design Approach
Part of the College’s requirement was that the new building would assist in the establishment of a College identity.
The new Alloa campus is on a challenging, steeply sloping and partially wooded site close to the centre of town, overlooking a busy roundabout. The evolution of both the brief and the design was achieved through a collaborative conversation between client and architect, who quickly agreed on the fundamental attitude and approach to be employed. Perhaps the most important aspect centred around treating all learners with proper respect. The environment through which one passes to access an engineering workshop is as important as that for a business studies classroom.
The design also recognises the influence that architecture has on the social environment. The refectory is at the heart of the scheme, with many journeys passing through it. This is a deliberate attempt to encourage social interaction between learners (and staff) from different disciplines. In the first instance this move was greeted with caution by the College, as the refectory was seen as a place to be hidden away due to the potential for unruly behaviour. The arguments for social interaction and respect won out, however, and it is reported that not only has the number of learners staying on campus to eat increased markedly (in spite of a hugely increased availability for off campus eating), behaviour has also significantly improved.
Access to the site and building was particularly challenging, both for design team and contractor. The eventual solution achieves a complete separation of main car, pedestrian and service access, whilst ensuring that all visitors enter into the same entrance hall, whose triple height links the various parts of the building.
The architectural diagram was driven to a considerable extent by such pragmatic issues as the requirement for flat ground (for workshops and service yard), safe vehicle access and retention of trees. Workshops were placed on the only available flat ground, with the access corridor as a “shop window” overlooking the main road. Classroom accommodation was placed above and behind, gaining a view to the Ochils to the north. The shared resource accommodation is wrapped around the end, with the Learner Centre (library) in a dramatic cantilever overlooking the roundabout 12m below, acting as a beacon of learning and announcing the presence and function of the College to the town. Linking the two main blocks is the refectory – the lynch pin of the scheme – a double height space overlooking an external “room” set with permanent precast furniture and enclosed by building and trees.
The building is clad throughout in a high quality handmade brick, whose robust uniformity lends the building a powerful dignity, transcending the disparate nature of much recent development in the area. Fenestration is approached in two distinct ways:
In the classroom areas the windows are held back from the elevation, and are arranged in a continuous strip, interspersed with grey precast pilasters. The thickness of the brick is deliberately expressed. Opening lights supplying natural ventilation to the classrooms are in deep recesses, one above the other, controlling the breeze entering the space and allowing large areas of uninterrupted glass in between.
In communal areas the glass is moved out flush with the elevation, maintaining the plane of the envelope and expressing the sometimes dramatic volume of the building in a simple manner.