University of Greenwich: Library and Academic Building
Located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Maritime Greenwich, the Stockwell Street site is surrounded on two sides by 2-3 storey residential buildings, with the imposing presence of Hawksmoor’s Grade 1 listed St. Alfege Church across the road. To the North, a railway cutting slices through the traditional urban block.
The University organised a 2-stage competition to design its main Library and an Academic building housing the Departments of Architecture & Landscape and Creative Professions & Digital Arts. The brief required an aspirational building while meeting the requirements of staff and students for teaching and research, embracing the local community and sitting easily within the World Heritage Site. The new building brings the University off campus and into the heart of the town centre with a large library, educational spaces and other cultural activities. It has created a significant increase in footfall and vitality, helping local businesses and creating a truly mixed use town centre.
The architectural challenge was provide large University spaces while creating an active streetscape. To be realisable, it had to recognise the low rise urban fabric in this conservation area. To keep height to a minimum, the footprint covers most of the site. Highest along Stockwell Street and the railway, where a civic presence is established opposite St. Alfege, the building steps down to the residences. Making every surface work, the stepping roofs become roof terraces, providing open teaching spaces that are not possible on ground and creating a vista for the adjoining properties. The porous ground floor is designed as a series of shopfronts, café, exhibition, print shop and legal advice centre that open into the public ground floor with its lecture theatres and exhibition spaces.
The site is organised into bands. Narrow bands bring light into the deep plan and carry services; Wide bands ( 8-12 metres) house the programme. The dimensions, and structure echo the dimensions of pre-twentieth century buildings, which had to recognise the limitations of daylight. The focal point of the academic building, the design studio and “Crit Pit”, occupy the entire first floor; an expansive space, yet divisible due to the banding.
The logic of the banding is carried through to the main streetfront with the railway cutting conceptualised as a section cut which reconciles the two geometries on the site. Building materials are robust and self-finishing, concrete, steel and stone, to allow the occupants, future designers, the ability to layer on top of the infrastructure that the architecture provides.