Building design and architecture

The architect said: “The buildings will be largely naturally ventilated, but with some mechanical cooling, and we will also be incorporating solar photovoltaics on the roof. The gas boilers and associated pipework will be connected up to a district heating scheme. The building will be well-insulated and designed to high airtightness levels.”

INTERIOR DESIGN This CGI shows the new building’s striking glass frontage, with the diagonal motif on the glazing.

move was about staff in the charity – such as researchers – being more connected to what it is they are really about – the children.”


Looking at the development floor by floor, Mark Rowe explained that the basement would incorporate a lot of mechanical plant, including gas boilers, plus conference facilities, bicycle stores, and breakout areas, used day to day by postgraduates.” He added: “At the front, a digger took out the cobblestone yard; previously the chocolate factory behind lived in splendid isolation. The clever thing we did was to change the level. The yard always sloped upwards, but we have dug out what was the damp basement of the chocolate factory, and it is now at ground floor. The new build is being constructed within a pretty tight space on the former cobblestone yard. “On the ground floor,” the architect explained, “everything is shared. At the front there will be a café next to reception, primarily for the building’s users, next to reception, plus some shared conference facilities, and the entrance to the Family School. There will be very few people in this building who ‘own’ a particular desk; much of it will be a large open plan ‘landscape’. The first floor will house ‘admin’ facilities for the school and its library, and some classrooms; across all five floors there will be eight classrooms. Other space will not be very clearly delineated for specific use – some rooms will be used as workspace and meeting rooms for part of the week, and for clinical use on other days. The first floor will lean more towards postgraduate studies. Each classroom will form part of a ‘learning lounge’, where students will have breakfast and lunch, and parents will be able to have a cup of coffee during the day. The school calls these facilities ‘pods’; each will be able to accommodate 12 students, and will, for example, incorporate a small kitchen. There will also be meeting and quiet rooms.”


The other floors will again incorporate a combination of classrooms, ‘pods’, administrative and shared workspace, and clinical space. Mark Rowe said: “The configuration will very much address the way the school and charity operate currently, but with considerable flexibility designed into how rooms can be used.” He added: “There is quite a lot of repetition. When the client briefed us on the pods, they initially considered bringing together children of similar ages, but their thinking now is that it may be better to group pupils by behavioural issues rather than age.”


At ground floor level, Mark Rowe explained, the Family School and the facilities within the converted chocolate factory will be connected. He said: “The school and the charity have committed to sharing facilities, but they will very much have to work out how best to do this through managing the building. We have also designed the layout so that the school can be shut off if required. Around a third of the scheme comprises the refurbished chocolate factory, about a third the new school at the front, and the final third is everything at ground and basement level.”

A LIGHT AND AIRY BUILDING One of the key goals was to ensure as much ingress of light into the building as possible. Mark Rowe said: “We also wanted to get as much ventilation through as we could without having to rely on mechanical plant. We have met the former goal by incorporating large expanses of glass, and in fact every other glass unit is on concertina actuators that we can open up for through ventilation. We also wanted to maximise what we could get on the roof, but planning constraints limited this. The roof terraces will feature bushes and foliage; one will be accessible from the school, and four from the workspace.” The Family School will accommodate pupils aged up to 14, with all the therapy very family- based. Many of the service-users will have been referred by the NHS. The majority of the therapy space will be in the area being refurbished. At the heart of the building’s structure, Mark Rowe explained – in keeping with both Penoyre & Prasad’s approach to designing buildings sustainably, and the charity’s own requirements – is a glulam material, with the large structural members formed from laminated timber. He said: “Timber is a calming material, and, in seeking to move away from the institutional, back to the domestic, we always knew timber would be a great starting point. Due to pressure from the planners, we were really tight on floor- to-floor height in this building. We have a composite structure with timber glulam, with acid-etched pre-cast concrete planks running between, so everything is left exposed. We are not having to install suspended ceilings, and have thus maximised room height so far as we can.”

OTHER PROJECT PARTNERS Mentioning, at this point, other key project partners on the scheme, Mark Rowe explained that the structural engineers are Webb Yates, the mechanical engineers, CES, and the project managers, GBA. The project is currently measured as achieving a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’.

I asked next about the interior design. Mark Rowe explained that undertaking this element of the scheme is renowned interior design consultancy, Studio Ilse. He said: “The design firm is particularly well-known for its work in hospitality, and particularly in hotels. We recognised that the design consultancy could bring to the internal design a layer of softness and warmth, as well as comfort and humanity. Unfortunately you don’t find enough of these design people working in mental health environments. Sometimes there can be a little bit of tension between architects and interior designers, but that is not the case here.” Penoyre & Prasad had, the architect explained, run workshops on the design with staff from the outset, with Studio Ilse ‘taking up the baton’ at the start of 2017. Mark Rowe said that, as regards the interior design, there had been ‘a readiness to accept a bit more frivolity’. He showed me, as an example, slides of ‘a chain of lights’ and extensive incorporation of greenery inside. He said: “While as architects we tend to think we have a pretty strong narrative on the schemes we are working on, to hear Ilse Crawford focus upon the day-to-day experiences within the buildings, such as the smell of hot chocolate, or the feel of a fabric that service-users will encounter, was illuminating. While it has been clear that the charity is keen to create a facility with a high quality feel, for a charity, under considerable scrutiny, it takes a lot of conviction to actually go down that route and make the case for spending money and investing that respect for service-users.”

FEELING OF CALM Showing me some artist’s impression-type images of the new centre’s interior, Mark Rowe said: “As you can see, we are not talking about very flashy design; the word we keep coming back to is ‘calm’, which is critical to the building’s success. Many of the components, furniture and, for example, lighting, will be bespoke. For instance it’s unlikely that the furniture will be from one of the larger, more established mental health sector suppliers, since some of this is too institutional in look and feel. Because the service- users will generally be supervised outpatients, we do not need to ensure that all components are anti-ligature, as we might do in an inpatient or secure unit. Obviously, we will not be creating a space full of hazards, but nor will we be moving away from a domestic and comfortable environment. The idea will be to have no more ligature points than the young users would have in their lounge, kitchen, or bathroom. “It’s been a very interesting project to work on – unique in its vision and brief, but sharing characteristics with many of the other projects we work on. The key – as ever – is to bring many different stakeholders together to work collaboratively towards a positive result.”


©Penoyre & Prasad

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