Best Practices in Educational Facilities Investments

Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College, Highgate, Birmingham, UK-England

Exemplary design categories: comfort, community use and involvement, safety, technology rich

How the facility meets the needs of education and communities:
JCC students are drawn from one of the most deprived areas in the country and so the new college needed to be welcoming, exciting and fun both to attract students and to inspire them to stay on site and take up the opportunities on offer. As well as buzz and energy there was to be a pervading sense of “academic purposefulness” that would enhance aspiration through a concentration on the quality of the learning environment. This quality would be derived from a wide variety of adaptable, ICT rich learning spaces, and the tangible quality of the built environment. A specific requirement was for safe, external space that would simply be safe, beautiful and enjoyable to use.

The new buildings surround courtyards which provide a calm and safe environment protected from the noise and pollution surrounding the site. The safety of the students and the creation of usable external space were principle components of the clients’ brief. The courtyards deliberately echo the academic world of Oxbridge though the spaces created are contemporary. Each courtyard has a different character and degree of public accessibility which is reinforced by the nature of the spaces that surround it - making the building extremely legible. The tree-lined entrance boulevard is an extension of the street, providing a generous and safe place for students to meet before entering the college, whilst access to the square court which is the focus for the social areas of the college, is controlled by the porter’s lodge. The final space in the sequence is the semi-circular garden enclosed by the academic areas – a place of quiet reflection presided over by the LRC. The walls facing outwards are of load-bearing brickwork with deep reveals to enhance the sense of solidity and provide a robust exterior appropriate to the immediate context and to provide a sufficient presence to terminate the long vista from central Birmingham. The inner courtyard-facing walls are much lighter – a combination of white render and generous glazing to maximize the sense of connection with the courtyards.

There is a wide spectrum of different learning environments in the college to inspire both staff and students. There are formal teaching spaces, self directed/group learning environments such as the different break out areas, the social learning areas like the cyber café and the personal study areas of the LRC suite – library, quiet study and ICT open learning centre. These have been carefully designed and located to provide maximum flexibility and are rich in ICT.

The College has a strong commitment to its immediate community and the last part of the vision was to enhance support of around 1000 adults who are either family members or live in the same streets as its younger full time students and extending the range of facilities open to them. These includes use of the sports centre, including separate sessions for women to recognise cultural demands; free weekly accommodation and teaching for various ethnic groups; courses in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Mandarin and Urdu, in addition to the European languages the college offers; regular festivals, celebrations, art exhibitions, day conventions, theatre and dance productions, all of which reflect the diverse nature of the community; prayer room, counselling and careers advice and guidance are available for adults; Library, IT and specialist science facilities available to adults in the evenings; a theatre partnership with local schools for severely disabled students with regular productions for their families; and the provision of Halal and culturally diverse catering.

Special elements like the Learning Resources Centre, the break out areas and the prayer room are clad in copper. Internally the approach has been to create an abundance of natural light to enhance the enjoyment of using the spaces. This is reflected in the treatment of the circulation areas – the glazed walls to the courtyards, main stairs linking the square court and crescent garden – as well as the principle learning spaces.

Involvement of users and the local community in the planning and design process:
During the design process consultations were held with all the college users and local council groups to ensure that the college provides good access for those with disabilities. In addition to the provision of facilities offered by the new building, the local community also benefited during the construction process with best practice initiatives encouraging the employment of local labour and businesses.

Activity Areas: 40 standard classrooms and a further 20 classrooms of specialist use, including science, art and computer classrooms, community sports facility, library and ICT Centre and performing arts facilities. The Main Hall accommodates 314 people in bleacher and loose seating arrangement. In addition to the academic accommodation there is an outreach centre, social spaces and community facilities.

Project costs: GBP 29,500,000.00

Source: Submitted to OECD for "Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011" in 2010

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User perspectives (2)

“[The design] was an inspirational response to the college’s ambitious and challenging brief. They have given us not only a building but also a belief in the future, an iconic response that will stand the test of time motivating both students and staff...It has been a joy to watch the response of our students, speechless for once, as they explore the spaces, protected by the handsome crescent and courtyard design."
Lynne Morris, College Principal during construction
“Never in their wildest dreams would the students have expected such a wonderful building. It makes them feel proud and good about themselves. It gives them a sense of their place in the community and a sense of responsibility. The students have been given something special and they want to do well and give something back."
Elly Tobin, current Principal

Images (5)

Drawings (3)

Site plans (Registration required)
Credit: Nicholas Hare Architects LLP
Cross sections (Registration required)
Credit: Nicholas Hare Architects LLP
Elevations (Registration required)
Credit: Nicholas Hare Architects LLP