Text description provided by the architects. Arup Associates’ architecture and engineering design for Coventry University’s new Faculty of Engineering and Computing embraces the university’s progressive, experiential approach to teaching these subjects.
The environmentally led design encourages an open and free exchange of ideas across disciplines. This creates new synergies within an activity-led, project-based learning approach.
Relatively modest in scale, the BREEAM ‘Excellent’ building emphasises and celebrates people and the learning experience while making use of radical technical innovation. It includes:
-A high-performance engineering centre with flight simulators and engine test cells
-A high-precision wind tunnel testing facility
-Two lecture theatres that can be subdivided for conferences
-Collaborative classrooms for 4,000 students, including IT workspaces
-Communal interactive spaces with learning booths
-Integrated academic offices, driving new research and teaching
-All linked by a state-of-the-art communications backbone
A radical reinvention of circulation.
From the beginning, Arup Associates rejected the typical model for an academic building – a series of separate independent spaces united by a circulation space. Instead, the architects focussed on interconnected, flexible spaces that are both inhabited and used for circulation.
The unifying means of circulation allows people to navigate intuitively around and between the building’s different levels. In this spatially rich, fluid building, smaller spaces juxtaposed with larger atria provide places for staff and students to circulate, read, learn, communicate, and interact as part of the wider faculty community. Teaching breaks out of the confines of lecture theatres and classrooms into the informal spaces.
Natural lighting and ventilation – with the volume of the atrium used to draw fresh air through the building – gives people control of their environment. Whether it’s opening a window, navigating easily or choosing the space where they work best, this building puts occupants in charge.
The Building Becomes a Learning Tool.
With the university keen to give students every possible opportunity to learn practically, Arup Associates conceived an approach whereby the building itself would become a learning tool.
The result is a highly readable building offering a rich, dynamic experience. Engineering students can study the forces at work on the concrete and steel, and they can see how services wind their way around the building.
In one zone, floating modular spaces known as ‘the planets’ hang from structural steelwork, giving students the chance to experience the forces at work on a practical level. Meanwhile, exposed services are closely coordinated into electrical, mechanical and public health zones so that students can follow their path around the building.
A Lean and Dynamic Structure.
As well as encouraging and celebrating students’ commitment to engineering, the building is itself brave and innovative. The potential of every element in its concrete frame has been maximised to produce a raw, robust and dramatic structure.
The design-and-build approached rationalised the building down to the last detail. But this isn’t an architecture whose success hangs on the detail; its qualities are intrinsic to the building. With everything exposed there were no layers of complexity and there was no need for a huge fixtures, fittings and equipment budget.