Finding hidden space in the university's complex estate to create a new student hub.
With a complex and sometimes under-utilised campus in central London, University College London (UCL) is constantly looking for new opportunities to reconfigure the estate to improve facilities for its students. In this case we were tasked with combining three disparate adjacent buildings, one of which was Grade II listed, to provide new student union facilities.
Prioritising the quality of the student experience is at the heart of everything UCL does and this project was a chance for them to lead as the 'user' client. Representatives from the Students’ Union sat side by side with the estates team to define the brief, alongside those from departments housed in the surrounding buildings as consultees. Having an engaged, enthusiastic and varied client group made for a very collaborative and inspiring design process informing every aspect of the project. Our brief was to fully explore what was possible, and through a series of workshops, get feedback and develop the design.
Each of the buildings we needed to integrate had a varying architectural character, yet all had to relate to one another. The former bookshop, pub and laboratories were different shapes and sizes, constructed in different ways and at different times. Our challenge was to make them work as one, in a cohesive singular manner.
We started by looking closely at each of the buildings and the spaces between them to establish how best they could be brought together. We needed to carefully consider the project’s budget and devise an approach that would maximise the benefit to as many people using the university as possible.
The idea of ‘found spaces’ quickly developed, where elements of the existing buildings are retained and combined with new interventions to create new volumes and views within the building and into the wider campus. Through consultation, we established that students were very supportive of this as a concept and so we set about implementing it.
The previous laboratory has been modified and extended to form a new circulation hub, linking the once disparate three buildings– addressing the accessibility issues of the past with a new lift and stairs serving all levels. This element also exploits natural light and ventilation to improve environmental performance and help the building achieve a BREEAM Bespoke Very Good rating.
A new basement venue and bar provide students with additional social space. At ground floor level, a large café has been created within the old bookshop, where we have also reinstated the former large shop windows. The original pub building has been renovated, providing an additional bar with new rooms above. These spaces can operate independently or as one large venue for the Union’s special events. On the upper floors, there are rehearsal rooms, including a dance studio, media suites, as well as offices and meeting rooms for the sabbatical offices and union representatives.
The finished article has a raw, industrial feel. New architectural details contrast with the existing buildings. Exposed brickwork, original structural details and surface mounted services, together with new glazing and interior fit out, create a truly modern, informal space that students can relate to and enjoy.