Aspire training centre, Slough, Berkshire, from Manalo & White

A former factory has been transformed into a tree-filled, multi-style training space to equip the town’s residents with skills needed in its businesses.

FX

Words by Emily Martin

Images by Morgan O'Donovan


Project Info

Client: Slough Aspire
Architect: Manalo & White
Size: 450 sq m
Duration: Six months
Cost: £430,000


Aspire is a public-private, sector-led, skills and training social enterprise designed to help the local community develop the right skills to meet the needs of businesses. It even aims to address the needs of schoolchildren, by bringing the world of work alive for them through direct involvement from the local business community, organising information fairs, networking sessions and skills competitions.

Large furniture pieces help delineate spaces
Large furniture pieces help delineate spaces

This latest Aspire centre opened in Slough last year, prior to which architecture practice Manalo & White was charged with delivering an imaginative design scheme, which combines elements of classroom, office and factory to provide an engaging learning space.

Bleacher-style seating adds another format for teaching
Bleacher-style seating adds another format for teaching

What the client called an 'unenviable task', the former factory shed has been transformed by Manalo & White into an inspiring tree-filled education space. Needing to house many different environments for learning and training, the spaces defined them with 'big pieces of furniture', rather than partitions.

The entrance leads straight to the tree-filled indoor space
The entrance leads straight to the tree-filled indoor space

'The intention was to create an inspiring environment that was adaptable and multifaceted enough to enable the course leaders to challenge traditional modes of teaching and learning,' says Brian Greathead, director, Manalo & White, with the business leaders and educators behind the project conscious of not disrupting the international businesses based there, given the openness of the space. 'We could see that an open-ended kind of education space was needed that would enable these two communities to meet on neutral ground, and in different ways,' he says.

Furniture, including bespoke pieces, are by MARK Product
Furniture, including bespoke pieces, are by MARK Product

Manalo & White took the unit back to its shell and lined it with natural elements including corkrubber and wool felt to soften the industrial feel. Some existing elements were retained, such as the concrete floor, which was stripped of its grey, industrial paint finish to expose the beach-like aggregate underneath.

Furniture, including bespoke pieces, are by MARK Product
Furniture, including bespoke pieces, are by MARK Product

The practice worked closely with furniture company MARK Product to produce colourful loose furniture and bespoke seating booths that subtly reinforce the qualities of the spaces.

Each area has a specific purpose, such as for presentations, meetings, workshops and group activities. The scheme's open layout encourages flow between these spaces to challenge preconceived ideas about teaching practices -- classrooms being one.

Two different designs for meeting spaces, but both with a pared-back industrial aesthetic
Two different designs for meeting spaces, but both with a pared-back industrial aesthetic

'The big, tough nature of the warehouse called for a playful architectural response,' explains Greathead. 'Working with it rather than against it gave us all the advantages of the space's industrial qualities: a hefty materiality, good top lighting, and very high ceilings.' But the poor acoustics of a warehouse space meant additional sound dampeners were needed to aid learners' concentration. Foam dampeners and an array of tri-ply timber fins have been suspended from the ceiling, also working to modulate the bright light from existing skylights.

Two different designs for meeting spaces, but both with a pared-back industrial aesthetic.
Two different designs for meeting spaces, but both with a pared-back industrial aesthetic

Bleacher seating takes advantage of the high ceilings, creating optimal sight lines for students during lectures while providing storage space underneath. The factory's roller door was retained to enable food and drinks' vendors to drive in to cater for social events. Large new windows make the metal shed feel less factory-like and provide a connection with the industrial estate outside by exposing the centre's activities inside.

Says Greathead: 'It was fantastic to have an opportunity to work directly with the educators on a new typology for the equivalent of a cross between a student and a CEO from one of the local blue-chip operations

Key suppliers

Surfaces
Tilly

Partitioning
Tilly

Furniture
Mark product





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