Future learning spaces

As many modern educational institutions expand and develop, they are finding it necessary to replace deteriorating school buildings with modern architecture that provides a comfortable working space for the future. In addition, the constant pressure on budgets, and the requirement to meet stringent energy efficiency regulations within Part L of the Building Regulations (that are anticipated to become stricter in the future) architects, specifiers and building managers are continually looking for more succinct design solutions to match their plans.

A common problem with large educational buildings, especially heritage properties, arises from the necessity to meet stringent energy efficiency measures. When designing modern extensions to these existing sites, it can be very complicated to compensate effectively for the energy lost from an ageing building.

Architects and specifiers are under pressure to consider every detail of the development, and glazing is a central part of this procedure. The requirement to deliver light and spacious learning environments, whilst also creating an energy efficient, economical and long lasting building is no small task. These buildings must have the promotion of learning at the heart of their design, creating an overall more pleasant experience and an inspirational working area. This is particularly difficult when refurbishing older buildings that are naturally very dark inside.

Great challenge

Designing buildings and refurbishments that complement their surroundings and remain both aesthetically pleasing and functional for years to come is a great challenge. Glazing is one material that is playing an increasingly more fundamental role in building design for its ability to create light and comfortable environments that are also structurally sound and energy efficient for the future. The necessity to develop comfortable working spaces able to incorporate the latest technologies and facilities on offer becomes ever more important, as modern teaching methods develop.

A further complication in the design process can stem from the structural requirements of an older refurbishment. It can be difficult to design a structure that both complements the existing design, and creates a structurally viable option. Often, ailing and complex existing structures can struggle to cope with the demands of a modern addition.

The Pilkington Planar structural glazing system however allows architects the freedom to apply bold designs, whilst affording them unrivalled stability and safety, due to the use of stainless steel fittings that are housed in countersunk holes to fix the glass back to the structure. We have helped architects on a variety of projects move away from more conventional framed systems to incorporate a system that has provided a more modern alternative to their design process.

Many architects and specifiers are unaware of the energy efficient benefits of this type of glazing and the fact that large, modern glazing applications can still make an important contribution to the energy efficiency of a building.

Natural light

With a frameless structural glass system, many of the attractions of the great outdoors (such as natural light and sunshine) are brought indoors. At the same time, the very same light and heat can be managed via the specification of a wide range of low-emissivity and solar control coatings. As we touched upon earlier, this can dramatically enhance the outlook of a building, both aesthetically and environmentally speaking.

Many new developments do not always maximise the natural light available, which means an opportunity can be lost to create an environmentally friendly dimension to the new build. We urge architects to contact an architectural glazing expert from the very beginning of a project to help them fully understand the full range of products at their disposal. This way, the design of a project can incorporate innovative, energy saving sustainable technologies through passive rather than engineered solutions.

St Helens College

One such example of an integrated design project is the impressive glass atrium in an extensive redevelopment project at St Helens College, in Merseyside. Our Pilkington Planar technical and design team worked closely with the client from the beginning to develop a modern innovative building to reflect the forward-looking ethos of the College.

The College’s ageing town centre campus had to be demolished to make way for a new state of the art learning complex that would complement the modern values of the college, and also blend in with the existing Smith Kline Beecham buildings that were undertaking refurbishment. The resulting façade is functional, aesthetically pleasing and creates an excellent internal working environment.

It is a great example of modern glass technology being used in a well designed project. The refurbishment makes a bold statement about the future of St Helens College, and the use of innovative glass solutions acknowledges the local glass manufacturing heritage.  It is a project of which we are particularly proud, given the company’s long established historical links with the town.

One of the most interesting aspects of this project was the brief to create open spaces for the students, something that we are seeing increasingly in this kind of design. The new facility includes a spacious reception area, light and airy study and dining areas, safe and secure user-friendly environments and landscaped social gathering areas for students.

We believe we have helped to create an inspirational space for the future, which will benefit both students and staff. On a wider scale, developments of this nature also contribute to the whole community, with the use of open spaces incorporated into the design, helping to make the town centre a safer place. We were challenged to work alongside the architects to embrace the vision and aspirations of the College in a forward looking and contemporary design that reflects the dynamics of delivering further education in the 21st Century. The landmark design is seen as a catalyst for future regeneration within the town and we hope it is a project that will provide inspiration for future educational buildings.

Building for the future

Specifying the Pilkington Planar structural glazing system provided striking façades to the building and created a lasting space for the future of the college, whilst incorporating high performance energy management glazing, ensuring that the building is aesthetically pleasing but also energy efficient.

The building is an excellent example of how bringing in expert advice at the start of a project can result in educated and considered design, and ultimately a building that delivers on every level it needs to.

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