Chris Malcolm discusses understanding the insights of a building's end users to coincide with the Education Buildings Scotland Conference.
Context matters – something brought into sharp focus when working in the coastal regions and islands of northern Scotland. The remit for our client, Hub North Scotland, is to deliver public sector projects extending from the Shetland Islands in the far north, to Campbeltown in the south.
Our projects within the SSF programme lie in a wide arc of not only the Hub North Scotland territory but Europe itself, at Campbeltown, Oban, Wick and Lerwick. These places all have their own strong cultural and geographical identities with traces of historic and prehistoric occupation evident in the town planning and landscape which shaped our design response.
This sense of uniqueness of place, climate and history presented a significant challenge in the context of the programme, where considerable time and energy has been invested in the development of an exemplar secondary school model to deliver the Scottish National Curriculum for Excellence.
The exemplar is based on the idea of a superblock – a multi storey ring of teaching and support spaces arranged around a series of internal, top lit atriums, functioning as multi use spaces for dining, assembly, performance and informal teaching. The compact footprint and high use level of each space helps drive efficiencies as well as creating quality teaching spaces, maximising natural light and ventilation.
Spaces are designed for a range of purposes including whole class teaching, collaborative group workshops, paired working and independent research. Public and shared spaces are also provided, in which learners can display work and teachers can plan collaboratively on interdisciplinary projects while also enhancing community schemes.
The model is manipulated through a series of steps to provide a contextually appropriate design solution. The buildings must read as modern, fit for purpose facilities. Equally the driving rain and fleeting natural lighting conditions prompted a material palette which uses texture to maximise the impact of shadow on surface. This allows a different perception across a range of weather and lighting conditions using materials which weather gracefully, as the climate is harsh on applied finishes.
Our approach manifests at Lerwick, Shetland, with the simplicity of the Nordic long hall. Anderson High sits between the shores of Clickimin Loch to the south and the rugged slopes of Staney Hill to the north on an islet within the loch sits the ancient monument of the Broch of Clickimin, a once mighty, now eroded iron age ruin. These elements of land, water and history provide a rich context which has influenced the design.
As a response to the Shetland context, the mass is broken down by providing two individual pitched roofs, reading as two simple shed like structures. These are placed either side of a central communal space, referencing the language of the agricultural vernacular and responding to the necessities of the climate. When viewed from a distance, the mass of the school is subsumed in the backdrop of Staney Hill.
Through consultations with the client and local communities, we have developed the superblock model, articulating the importance of context and climate, and demonstrating how the varied, rugged topography of the sites allowed the new schools to integrate into the landscape, such as through the introduction of heavy, masonry base courses, which echo both prehistoric remains and geological extrusions from the landscape.
The school and associated halls of residence was officially opened by education secretary John Swinney, Deputy First Minister on 24 September.
Architecture and Design Scotland interviewed Chris Malcolm to gain insight into the modern day learning environment.