The practice has delivered the largest academic building for the university since it was founded in the Sixties, sitting in mature woodland without dominating it
Words by Emily Martin
Images by Quintin Lake
Client: University of Kent
Architect: Penoyre & Prasad
Size: 8,000 sq m
Duration: August 2013 – January 2017
Penoyre & Prasad has delivered a new building for the University of Kent, set within beautiful woodland on the northern edge of the campus. It brings together two schools: Kent Business School and the School of Mathematics, as well as statistics and actuarial science, into a single 8,000 sq m building comprising interactive social learning areas, a cafe, innovative teaching environments, academic workspace and open-plan research space.
‘The challenge of locating a large new academic hub in this woodland setting, without destroying the site’s intrinsic beauty, intrigued us from the start,’ says Ian Goodfellow, Penoyre & Prasad partner and project lead. ‘Beyond obvious initial moves, such as retaining the majority of mature trees, we set about analysing the different ways in which the building would be experienced – glimpsed through foliage, viewed below the tree canopy, and from its various approaches – and allowed this to shape the overall form and architectural language.’
View shows the main entrance to the maths school
It’s the largest academic building for the university since it was founded in the Sixties. The new building is carefully sited among the mature trees and coppiced woods so its overall size is never fully visible nor dominating the surrounding woodland.
Bird’s-eye view of social learning space from the first floor
‘Working closely with ecologists and landscape architects, we steered the project through a protracted planning process, seeking to protect and enhance the woodland context,’ explains Goodfellow. ‘This sensitive approach has created a building with a real sense of place and belonging, both ecologically – providing wild-flower roofs and native planting strategies – and through its materiality and formal design, which at times seem to dissolve the distinction between the woodland and the building itself.’
Its users have extensive views across the forest canopy. The colours and patterns of the woodland are echoed and reflected in the material palette, furniture and graphics used in the building. Its facade features coloured aluminium fins that reflect the changing light and movement of the trees. The woodland setting became the design inspiration for the project, with further inspiration coming from Johannes Duiker’s 1935 Hotel Gooiland and works by Alvar Aalto, including his Baker House student housing for MIT.
A shared breakout space takes full advantage of the building’s woodland setting
The Business School and the School of Mathematics are placed at either end of the flexible W-shaped plan, allowing for flexible growth and development, as well as interaction between the departments. The plan’s open corners are for research and knowledge exchange, and are supported at each level by a tapering concrete ‘hand’ that also provides longer spans for the lecture theatres below.
Lecture theatres, seminar spaces, a Bloomberg suite, cafe and social learning spaces are located on both ground and first floors, and around a dramatic top-lit concourse.
The social space features a double-height space filled with glazing
‘The schools’ individual reception areas link directly to upper floors where workspaces for academics, PhD and post-graduate researchers are sited,’ says Goodfellow. ‘This arrangement creates degrees of separation for a range of civic (social), public (teaching and learning) and more private (research and working) spaces to co-exist.’
One of the building’s lecture theatres
Penoyre & Prasad consulted extensively with students, academics, admin staff and catering teams. Natural ventilation, roof mounted PVs, long structural spans and raised access floors all contributed to the building’s BREEAM Excellent rating. It was a key feature of the brief, says Goodfellow, with the client detailing ambitious environmental targets for the building, as well as the aim for a largely naturally ventilated building, to the practice.
The two schools (business and maths) each have their own dedicated receptions, here for the Kent School of Business
‘Celebrating its unique natural setting, the Sibson Building creates a vibrant new destination within beautiful woodland for the university on its the parkland campus,’ concludes Goodfellow.