‘Utopian masterplan’ grows at Essex

Essex University Brutalist campus vision continued by new contemporary buildings

Two new buildings have completed at the Essex University campus – a new wing to the Albert Sloman Library and the new Silberrad Student Centre.

These two projects have been carefully designed and located as a continuation of the original 1960s utopian masterplan for the university by Architects Cooperative Partnership.

The building needed to complement the library and provide 24-hour student services, with integrated media and learning centres. However, architects Patel Taylor opted to split the purposes of the Library and Student Centre into two separate buildings, creating a landscaped space between, allowing each new building to have its own identity. The buildings create a natural gateway, framing the east-west axis to the northern edge of the campus. Having previously worked on the Ivor Crewe Lecture Theatre, Patel Taylor were well versed with the complexities of the campus and in tune with how the buildings should be sensitively integrated into the the existing scheme. 

The new addition to the Albert Sloman Library makes very deliberate architectural references to the existing building, picking up on the dominant structure of the two storey columns and the four storeys of accommodation cantilevered above. The new wing connects to the existing library across the 1963 core, utilising the breakout panels originally designed into the building and capitalising on the main circulation hub with its rare Paternoster lift.

Named for a prominent family active throughout the university’s 50-year history, the Silberrad Student Centre rests on a deck of stone at the edge of a lake. Limestone piers and full-height glazing echo the irregular window patterns used extensively across the campus.

The Centre is approached primarily from the South and East. At the junction of the two key routes across the campus, a new outdoor room is created below the cantilevered second floor slab. Moving into the building, the new visitor reception leads to a three-storey atrium with a sculptural steel and oak staircase.

Andrew Taylor, Director of Patel Taylor, said: “The university have shown great vision and ambition for the future development of the campus and we have ensured that the library and student centre live up to these ideals. The original 60s plan placed student life at its heart and we’re now bringing this into the 21st century.”

Professor Anthony Forster, Vice-Chancellor, University of Essex, said: “Patel Taylor have created two amazing buildings – a new library wing and students services building – that are an absolutely perfect complement to our existing iconic mid-century architecture. We couldn’t be more pleased.”


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