New building to ‘Spark’ the imagination

Southampton Solent opens game-changing £33m building for flexible teaching and learning

This September Southampton Solent University opens the doors to a stunning new £33 million teaching and learning building aimed at encouraging creative, interactive and flexible ways of learning.

Spread over five stories, the building boasts 40 teaching spaces – 35 classrooms and five lecture rooms – providing a combined teaching capacity of 1,500 at any one time. The building is not associated with a particular course or department, meaning any academic or student group can use the facilities.

Flexible furniture and event space in the Atrium

“This new building marks a huge step forward in the provision of modern learning and teaching for us as a university,” says Deputy Vice-Chancellor (External Engagement) Professor Mike Wilkinson. “With a number of unique and ground-breaking design features, this investment will help Solent to further enrich the student experience while also supporting the regions’ economic growth and development.”

The building benefits from specially designed audio-visual and teaching technology. Each teaching space is lecture capture enabled and will replace the traditional projector/whiteboard combination with a 75” touchscreen, so that lectures can be recorded and uploaded to the university’s virtual learning environment.       

The Palmerston lecture theatre

All 35 classrooms are north-facing, which reduces energy spent on heating and cooling. Chilled beams and exposed concrete ceilings also help to regulate temperature. It’s features like this that have contributed to its BREEAM ‘excellent’ rating.

Support services and construction company Interserve used BIM Level 2 to create the design of the steel structure and concrete floor slabs of the new building. Part of the technical challenge of the project lay in successfully marrying the BIM Level 2 design with the shell manufacturer’s bespoke version of Rhino CAD, usually used in the marine industry, to accommodate the tight tolerances used in the design of the shell.

Looking to break students out of a traditional ‘receiver of knowledge’ mentality and engage in active questioning and thinking, it’s the only teaching building in the sector with such a large proportion of ‘agile’ furniture – designed to promote creativity, independent thinking, and individual ways of learning.

Designed with equality of access in mind, it has height adjustable tables in each classroom and a range of seating and table options. Each of the 30-student capacity teaching rooms near the lifts on each floor is fully compliant with the Equality Act 2010, meaning that even if all 30 students were wheelchair users, the room remains functional, effective and safe.

Wendy Sammels, creative director at Broadstock Furniture, said the furniture was designed to reflect the trend in active learning. “Traditionally, universities’ teaching spaces don’t really allow for good discussion and collaboration, so we’ve been working closely with lots of universities on this new trend,” she said. “What’s exciting about this building is that this is genuinely a breakthrough in the sector. Eighty-four per cent of the classrooms in this building are non-traditional, they are focused on collaboration, on the active learning model. There isn’t another building like it in the country, and that’s because the trend and demand is there from the students and academics – they want to teach in a collaborative way, they don’t want to be moving tables and chairs so they can group people together. We’ve tried to design spaces that allows them to teach in a didactic fashion and present for [part] of the session, then very quickly students can work in groups and discuss with their peers or the academic.”

Image courtesy of Broadstock Furniture

As well as classrooms, lecture theatres and conference rooms, the Spark has a selection of social spaces to encourage collaboration and relaxation.

The Spark’s 60-metre central atrium and dramatic elevated ‘pod’ has already caught the imagination of the building and education sectors, as well as passers-by. Designed by Scott Brownrigg and fabricated by CIG Architecture in the Netherlands, the pod hosts a lecture theatre with an open-topped viewing platform with fantastic views. Inside, one gets the feeling of being inside the hull of a boat, which ties in well with the city’s nautical links. Each panel of the pod was hand painted, giving the building an artisan twist.

The pod features a relaxing roof terrace

Ian Pratt, Director responsible for the scheme at Scott Brownrigg, said: “The completion of the ‘The Spark marks the end of a four-year journey for Scott Brownrigg and the University community and the culmination of an incredibly rewarding inter-disciplinary design and construction collaboration. The project was a major vehicle for institutional change and ‘The Spark will revolutionise teaching and learning and the student experience.

“Its my hope that the pod will mean something different to each and every person who sees it, touches it, and stands in or upon it. What is really pleasing is that it has become widely admired. The design captured the interest and imagination of all project partners including members of the construction team which is incredibly rewarding. Passers-by stop on the pavement and in the park to gaze at it. By all accounts, the pod is already helping to define and reinforce the Universitys brand and reputation and to attract students from the UK and overseas.”

Businesses and community groups will also be able to use the building’s facilities. In addition to the pod and semi-public atrium that will be available for events, the Spark also features flexible conference suites, a bookable business centre and a new VIP dining area.

The new building has already hosted a number of events ahead of the start of term, including: a selection of the University’s annual degree shows this June; an Open Day for potential new students; and graduation activities earlier this month (July).

This addition to the University’s city centre campus is part of a £100 million campus development plan, due for completion in 2020, which will also include a new sports centre.

The centre is expected to be ready by the 2018/19 academic year and will feature sports halls and a state of the art gym. It will be open for teaching, student leisure time and community use.

Mike added: “This new addition to our city centre campus will play a major role in helping the University continue to deliver the best learning and conference experience for staff, students and the wider community.”

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