The Gabled Roof of Learning

Located at the heart of Durham University, Lower Mountjoy Teaching and Learning Centre designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects, with its dynamic roof profile, sitting in view of the World Heritage Site, in Durham, offers a world-class space for teaching and learning.

Designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects and delivered by Space Architects and Galliford Try, the building demonstrates the benefits of a collaborative approach to design and construction.

In 2017, a new University Strategy was launched to offer strategic direction for Durham University over a ten-year period. FaulknerBrowns were engaged to inform and support this strategy with the development of a new University Masterplan. Central to the new University Strategy and Masterplan was the provision of enhanced teaching and learning facilities to support an increase in student numbers, enable the adoption of new pedagogies, and to create facilities that could be shared by all students rather than be aligned to specific faculties or departments. A prominent site on the edge of the Mountjoy Academic Campus was selected to embed the new facilities at the centre of academic life.

Durham is a historic city and its UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing the cathedral and castle, exerts a strong influence over the character of the university estate. The site chosen for the teaching and learning centre is situated on the edge of the city centre, adjacent to a conservation area and within view of the World Heritage Site.

In this highly sensitive location the incorporation of an 8,000m2, the three-storey building presented a challenge. To ensure the new center integrated sensitively with the urban fabric, the overall building volume was broken down into an assemblage of smaller repeated elements to relate more closely to the prevailing grain of the city.

A three-storey module with a 15x18m footprint was established as the building block from which the center was formed. Each module has two façade types: a ‘fenestrated’ façade generally on the long face, and a ‘gable’ façade to the short face. Each module is capped by an asymmetric pyramidal roof with a central roof light. Twelve of these modules rotated and handed, create the overall plan layout and building volume, with one of the central elements being ‘removed’ to create a focal internal courtyard.

The dynamic roof profile not only delivers complexity and interest in the external forum, but it also creates a series of dramatic top-lit ceiling coffers to the upper-level learning commons – a modern interpretation of the traditional reading room. The pyramidal roofs are finished in a traditional standing seamed zinc sheet to contrast with the tones of the brickwork below and respond appropriately to the conservation setting.

In the Lower Mountjoy Teaching and Learning Centre, the top-lit central courtyard forms the social and circulation hub of the building giving access to the café, 250 and 500 seat lecture theatres, seminar spaces and project rooms. A diverse mix of teaching spaces surrounds the lecture theatres, supporting traditional seminars as well as macro-collaboration and micro-collaboration pedagogies. Cellular project rooms provide an extremely valuable ‘workplace like’ environment for self-guided group work and support innovative pedagogies such as flipped learning.

The vaulted top floor of the centre provides an extensive ‘learning commons’ with a broad range of settings for focused, contemplative, active and collaborative learning. Full height windows provide views to the surrounding mature landscape and glimpses of the iconic cathedral.

An integrated technology and sustainability strategy were central to the university’s vision for the Teaching and Learning Centre. The centre has therefore been designed to BREEAM ‘Excellent’ standard and to deliver EPC ‘A’ rated energy performance.

Thin-film photovoltaics embedded within the courtyard roof glazing, together with a combined heat and power unit, make a significant contribution to onsite renewable energy generation. A mixed-mode ventilation strategy is also employed. Natural ventilation is provided from the louvre panels next to the windows, controlled by the Building Management System. Transfer grilles in the rear of the teaching spaces exhaust warm air to the atrium where it is discharged through the roof lights via the natural stack effect.

Since opening for the start of the 2019-20 academic year the building has established itself as a hugely popular facility for teaching and learning, which has been embraced by students and academics alike. The center is helping the university realize its global ambition to be at the forefront of innovations in the teaching and learning experience, enabling the adoption of new and innovative pedagogies, and becoming a focal venue for academic life.

Developing the Design

FaulknerBrowns Architects and the design stage consultants were appointed by Turner & Townsend, to develop the design to the end of RIBA Stage 3 and planning approval. Following planning approval, Galliford Try and their consultant team, led by Space Architects, developed and refined the design to ensure that the university’s aspirational, performance, sustainability, and functional requirements were realized. FaulknerBrowns were retained by the university as design and technical advisers.

Project Details

Project name: Lower Mountjoy Teaching and Learning Centre

Start on site: December 2017

Completion date: September 2019

Gross internal area: 8,250 Square Metre

Project Location: Durham, UK

Construction cost: £25,000,000

Project team

Client: Durham University

Architects: FaulknerBrowns Architects

Delivery Architects: Space Architects

Main Contractor: Galliford Try

Project Manager / Quantity Surveyor / Cost Consultant: Turner & Townsend

Structural / Civil Engineering (Design Stages): Buro Happold

Structural / Civil Engineering (Delivery Phase): Cundall

Environmental / M&E Engineers (Design Stages): Buro Happold

Environmental / M&E Engineers (Delivery Phase): Cundall

Planning Consultant: DPP

Landscape (Design Stages): Land Use Consultants

Landscape (Delivery Phase): OOBE

BREEAM Assessor: Cundall