Set within a row of Victorian villas in Bristol’s university quarter, the School of Humanities – part of the Faculty of Arts – had become overcrowded and no longer fit for purpose as the faculty’s student cohort grew. The University had extended it in the 1980s; commissioned to look at possible development opportunities, we took on the task of extending the facility further, working along the rear of the three listed villas on the road.
The historic status of the site was a tough challenge, and we knew that our success relied on a well-considered design and careful consultation with the local planning authority, local organisations, and the general public. We also needed to pay close attention to issues of access, as the new ground and first floor would have to deal with a slope along the length of Woodland Road.
To avoid impinging on the unique character of the villas, we restricted the height of the new building and discussed our choice of materials in detail with the local conservation officer. The key was designing an extension which was subservient to the existing buildings, but which had its own high quality of architecture. We also worked closely with the design team and University to achieve a high level of sustainability, with a BREEAM “Excellent” target.
The extension provides a range of spaces which the School previously lacked – a new breakout and study space, for instance, as well as a much-needed gallery
and exhibition space, and one of the largest lecture theatres in the University. Plant room services are in a new basement, and by using space efficiently we managed to limit the height of the extension to two storeys.
Access in the existing buildings was tortuous, with numerous ramps and steps. Our proposal made the new building level throughout, with only two points of access requiring a change in level, provided by short steps and lifts. The University’s staff, students, and visitors now have a School of Humanities that truly delivers, with world-class facilities that complement their surroundings.
“The Humanities Building was an excellent opportunity to make a real difference to students and academics within the School. Our design directly addressed the shortcomings of the existing facilities, providing an accessible facility with sustainable credentials.”– GRAHAM MCRUVIE, PROJECT DIRECTOR