Plymouth School of Creative Arts
ARCHITECT: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
CLIENT: Plymouth School of Creative Arts
AWARDS WON: riba SOUTH WEST award 2016,
riba sOUTH wEST pROJECT aRCHITECT OF THE yEAR 2016 (ANDY THEOBALD, FCB STUDIOS) - sponsored by Tarmac
Schools should not have to cost so little, nor be built so quickly that their key driver is the satisfaction of ever more aggressive government targets. Given that they are, one can only hope that they deliver as much as this building does, (and thereafter that their success is not used to justify squeezing budgets and programmes further).
The first and lasting lesson that is taught here is that our cities are, in general, blandly monochromatic. Large colourful buildings are normally limited to out of town retail parks without much to justify them other than shameless branding.
When bright, saturated colour is thoughtfully applied to a full urban block the effect is mesmerising. This is not however a throwaway gesture –the pivotal location of the site between port and city and the school’s wide community use make a celebratory building seems wholly appropriate. Nor is the colour a diversionary tactic – the school’s ‘teaching through art’ agenda in itself justifies a visual response and the building’s form and elevation treatment are highly civilised despite a limited and economic material palette.
Particularly enjoyable is the strategy of coding the facades so that any wall which cuts away from the perimeter is clad in black not red. This creates exquisitely sharp vertical joints, made more successful where corners turn only 45 degrees to resolve site geometry. The variable width modulation of the cladding and random overlapping fenestration of the facades elevates the building to a level of considerable visual sophistication and, ironically given the crimson shock, relative subtlety.
The building addresses an irregularly shaped and sloping site with great clarity. A single building form houses pupils from ages 4-16, but necessarily and neatly separates entrances for lower and upper schools and steps the building in accordance with that distinction; rising to a maximum at the primary street elevation and entrance. The building addresses the northern site perimeter with one point of its pentagonal plan to define two distinct external play areas in the corners of the plot.
The mixed response to the urban grid and street geometry – following and repairing the urban grid on the south and breaking rank on the north is successful in creating a very legible public/private divide. On the public side the entry is strongly stated on the street and leads to a procession through the building via lofty atria that makes for easy orientation.
This is a large school in a single wrapper, with a diversity of spaces including long-span large-volume hall, theatre, dance studio, technical spaces et al neatly stitched together in a free-flowing plan. What is not in evidence are (many) conventional classrooms -apparently in keeping with the teaching ethos - and these omissions have undoubtedly contributed to budget control to allow a reasonable level of specification to be retained for the remainder.
The very loose structure necessary for teaching hundreds of children of every age in a largely open plan environment is arrestingly unconventional.
This is a complex and challenging project made to look rather effortless in practice. Quality and consistency of architectural thinking is evident throughout, and the building delivers an impressive and significant addition to the cityscape. This is an intelligent design and the architects’ success in delivering a great project on an extraordinarily constrained budget and programme is recognised and applauded by the jury.
CONTRACTOR: Kier Construction
STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS: Jubb Consulting Engineers
M&E ENGINEERS: AECOM
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS: Rathbone Partnership
INTERNAL AREA: 6,762 SQM
PHOTOGRAPHER: hufton + Crow