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Saturday26 July 2014

BUILDING STUDY

Nicholas Hare’s Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College, Birmingham

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Nicholas Hare’s Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College provides the students with an atmosphere of calm relaxation

When generations hence are bitterly paying off this government’s debts, they may still reflect that nowhere has the legacy of New Labour’s investment been more lasting than in the delivery of schools and colleges.

In the further education sector many of these capital projects have been funded directly by the Learning & Skills Council, created in 2001 as the largest-ever quango. After recent revelations about over-promising billions it doesn’t have, the LSC is reportedly destined by the current government for the chop by 2010 and it’s fair to ask whether the architecture it has funded will have any longer-term success than the short-lived body itself.

The recently opened Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College (JCC) designed by Nicholas Hare Architects, suggests that, at its best, this decade’s development programme will have created work of enduring quality. Last month the £29 million new campus, funded in large part by the LSC, won the RIBA/LSC Further Education Building Design Excellence Award — recognition that the practice has created a tranquil enclave amid the decaying estates and corporate dross of Birmingham’s Highgate area.

Aerial View

Aerial View

Green copper cladding

Credit: Alan Williams

Green copper cladding picks out the learning resource centre

That the college serves one of the most deprived parts of the country is a fitting tribute to the local man whose name it bears. The liberal politician and educational reformer Joseph Chamberlain believed that “it is as much the duty of the state to see that the children are educated as to see that they are fed”. In 1867, he founded the Birmingham Education League, which advocated locally administered schools to educate children living in urban poverty.

The planning of the new building, which completed in 2008, lasted a decade and began with a design competition for a new facility on the college’s previous site. Following some deft manoeuvres in the property market by JCC’s energetic principal, Lynne Morris (a former member of the LSC), a bigger budget and a new hillside site were acquired. For this Morris sought a secure, private environment for pupils.

The architect responded with two formal gestures. The first, a tree-lined boulevard, forms an interstitial public space between two busy roads, with the vehicle gate to the south and the single pedestrian entry point to the north (which can be easily monitored from the staff rooms); the second, a large brick crescent, contains all classrooms and When generations hence are bitterly paying off this government’s debts, they may still reflect that nowhere has the legacy of New Labour’s investment been more lasting than in the delivery of schools and colleges.

In the further education sector many of these capital projects have been funded directly by the Learning & Skills Council, created in 2001 as the largest-ever quango. After recent revelations about over-promising billions it doesn’t have, the LSC is reportedly destined by the current government for the chop by 2010 and it’s fair to ask whether the architecture it has funded will have any longer-term success than the short-lived body itself.

dutch brick facade

Credit: Alan Williams

Buff Dutch brick defends the continuous curved facade of the exterior.

courtyards

Credit: Alan Williams

Courtyards are enclosed by white walls and fixed glazing.

The recently opened Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College (JCC) designed by Nicholas Hare Architects, suggests that, at its best, this decade’s development programme will have created work of enduring quality. Last month the £29 million new campus, funded in large part by the LSC, won the RIBA/LSC Further Education Building Design Excellence Award — recognition that the practice has created a tranquil enclave amid the decaying estates and corporate dross of Birmingham’s Highgate area.

That the college serves one of the most deprived parts of the country is a fitting tribute to the local man whose name it bears. The liberal politician and educational reformer Joseph Chamberlain believed that “it is as much the duty of the state to see that the children are educated as to see that they are fed”. In 1867, he founded the Birmingham Education League, which advocated locally administered schools to educate children living in urban poverty.

The planning of the new building, which completed in 2008, lasted a decade and began with a design competition for a new facility on the college’s previous site. Following some deft manoeuvres in the property market by JCC’s energetic principal, Lynne Morris (a former member of the LSC), a bigger budget and a new hillside site were acquired. For this Morris sought a secure, private environment for pupils.

The porters lodge

Credit: Alan Williams

The porters lodge

The architect responded with two formal gestures. The first, a tree-lined boulevard, forms an interstitial public space between two busy roads, with the vehicle gate to the south and the single pedestrian entry point to the north (which can be easily monitored from the staff rooms); the second, a large brick crescent, contains all classrooms and encircles a serene courtyard.

Directly influenced by Oxbridge colleges, the boulevard is the start of a sequence of privacy that continues through a porter’s lodge to ever quieter courtyards, and finally to the teaching and studying spaces. The two open courtyards are enclosed by simple white walls and generous fixed glazing; important spaces such as prayer rooms and the learning resource centre are accented in green copper cladding.

The students enthuse about the atmosphere of calm relaxation in the open areas. However, the absence of blind corners was very deliberate: “16-year-olds will behave themselves, if they know you’re looking,” explains Morris.

The continuous curved facade facing out of the site has a tougher character. The thick outer leaf of buff Dutch brick is load-bearing and was laid without expansion joints by using flexible lime mortar — which required main contractor Bam to retrain its bricklayers — and is punctuated regularly by crisp, aluminium-framed windows.

This barrier defends a perfectly tempered interior. Even on a muggy June afternoon, with the school full and the roads outside choked, the classrooms, corridors and breakout spaces were comfortable and quiet, and their form and finish remained coolly uncluttered.

Learning resource centre interior

Credit: Alan Williams

Learning resource centre interior.

Despite working to a sober budget (£2,100 per sq m), the architect has been able to use materials such as fair-faced in-situ concrete. Exposure of structural concrete elements enables the system of mechanical ventilation and cooling, and lends the interiors a feeling of solidity and professional purpose.

Morris and project architect Carol Lelliott directly attribute their project’s success to the method of procurement, which allowed great proximity between client, end user and architect during its delivery, and resulted in a facility owned — in every sense — by the college.

Morris is relieved to have avoided the “brutal legacy of debt and maintenance for schools” procured under PFI, expressing her delight that the design deliberately eschews the “wow factor” typical of such projects. Instead, it embodies perfectly the quiet confidence and aspiration of staff and students, its architect, and its namesake.

It is to be hoped that whatever replaces the LSC will be able to deliver work to match this level of sensitivity.

Specification

Brick


Walls facing the road are load-bearing brickwork with deep window reveals. Old Marlow was used with lime mortar to create a textured, homogeneous wall. Precast concrete lintels with brick slip soldier courses are used over structural openings. The inner leaf is typically a 200mm structural framing system with sheathing board and foil faced insulation with additional cavity insulation.
www.beaclayproducts.co.uk

Render


Walls to the courtyard envelope are finished in white RockShield insulated render to reflect light. The inner leaf is typically a 200mm site fixed, structural framing system with sheathing board.
www.rockwool.co.uk

Rainscreen Cladding


The six-court sports hall is clad in large format fibre cement boards by Marley Eternit. Full size, uncut boards were used for cost efficiency.
www.marleyeternit.co.uk

Curtain walling


Schüco FW50+ Hi Range curtain walling systems with Trespa Meteon panels between windows introduce variety to the strong rhythm of the facade and enable internal partitioning to be positioned off grid.
www.schueco.co.uk
www.trespa.com

Rooflights


Pyramidal rooflights above the stair cores and atria are Lightspan 500mm Roof Glazing System by Duplus Architectural Systems.
www.duplus.co.uk

Plant Screens


The roof level plant screen to the crescent with curved canopy is clad in Sinusoidal profile C13.5/3 curved metal cladding.
www.corusgroup.com

Ceilings


Perforated plasterboard lining was used to the main entrance and main hall ceilings and wall linings with a sound absorbing tissue backing, British Gypsum Gyptone Quattro 41. Balustrades to atrium spaces are lined with perforated, maple veneered plywood panels with acoustic backing.
www.british-gypsum.com

Doors


Hard wood maple screens and doors define the principal circulation routes and library/learning resource centre special spaces, while painted softwood with muted colour door laminates is used elsewhere continuing the random pattern of the feature panels to the external elevations. Glazed screen partitions to the library and learning resource centre preserve the sense of transparency within the building, while the side lights to classrooms allow light and views into the circulation.
www.leaderflushshapland.co.uk

Carpet Flooring


Courtyard circulation areas are carpeted with Armstrong Protect barrier matting. General circulation and teaching spaces are Armstrong Desso’s Stratos carpet tiles.
www.desso.com

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The green copper material is TECU Patina, supplied by KME UK.
    KME have a TECU Consulting team based in the UK, providing materials information and technical detailings assistance for architects, designers and project clients.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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