Site Logo
Build lean, build smart and collaborate with the end users

How FCBStudios delivered a building for The University of Warwick that puts collaboration at the heart of the study of the Arts

The new Faculty of Arts Building (FAB) designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBStudios) for the University of Warwick brings together the departments and schools of the Faculty under a single roof for the first time. The Faculty of Arts Building is home to seven departments. Originally spread across the campus in different buildings, they wanted to come together with one identity, creating opportunities for collaboration and a more cohesive programme through their new adjacencies.

Designed as a platform for engagement in the arts, the building is shaped by its context at the heart of the campus. Partner at FCBStudios Andy Theobald explains: “Its location at the centre of campus required it to be a pavilion in the round, presenting a façade to all the structures and landscaping around it. At the same time, the intention was to draw students into the building for both formal and informal learning.“

It is composed as four light-filled pavilions grouped around a central stair and sits amongst the mature trees of the University of Warwick’s landscape campus. In order to retain the existing large oaks, pines and poplars the building footprint steps and cranks, positioning it in the landscape, but also bringing a sense of the natural world inside.

Says Theobald: “We started with a building that was actually a series of four orthogonal clusters, slightly offset to one another. Responding to diagonal desire lines across campus and visual corridors, we twisted one of the clusters. By doing so, it both opened up a view through to The Oculus to the south, but remarkably it also brought the whole of the interior into a dynamic movement.”

The public realm extends into exhibition, social learning and café uses at the ground floor. A dynamic internal street provides a route through the building, providing breakout spaces for the auditoria, theatre spaces and cinema spaces. Large moveable walls provide opportunities for performance or exhibition to flood into the whole of the ground floor.

In place of a traditional atrium at ground level, the stair soars through the central void, and provides ample opportunities for serendipitous meetings, collaborations and interaction.

Theobald describes the staircase as a central tree: “The bridges and the stairs start to overlap each other as you walk through. They became a remarkable tree like structure, with its branches and boughs linking the four pavilions and all the various departments.”

Each pavilion houses teaching spaces, offices and academic clusters. It maximises opportunities for natural materials, natural ventilation and natural daylight, so the building appears to change throughout the day and throughout the seasons.

The interior of the building is made up of spaces for ad hoc meetings and dialogue, with benches, alcoves, corners and ledges with artwork, artefacts, and open-access multimedia displays and standardised AV equipment available across the public areas.

Rachel Moseley, Vice Provost of the Faculty of Arts at The University of Warwick comments: “The building was designed to bring us together to enable interdisciplinary working, research and teaching by putting people in a space where we could encounter each other and have conversations with each other and with the students.” Touchdown spaces and useable edges are maximised. A timber shelf was run in front of the glazed balustrades, which offers itself as a place to take calls, to meet others informally or simply as a place to observe other users of the building. The absence of walls and doors on some of the rooms around the central stair has promoted different ways of teaching and offers opportunities for their use between timetabled use. 

The spaces are bookable, but in between times act as a kind of reading room, where students happily share the table. Empty and underutilised spaces in the building are minimized in this way. The gaps between the pavilions create slots through which mature trees and surrounding landscapes are framed, and windows (many of them openable), where possible, are oriented into the leaf canopy. There are open, west-facing roof terraces on levels three and five. The current focus on bringing students and staff back to campus is a problem that was already being addressed by the project team during the design phases. Theobald notes: “The pleasure of being in these spaces is intended to ensure that students fully enjoy the opportunity to gather and converse face to face, especially after the restrictions of the last three years.” Rather than separating academic workspace and teaching space across different levels, as is usual within many university buildings, there is a mix of uses on each level. This strategy means that users are invited to every level, encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration. Close adjacency of teaching space to academic space also provides flexibility for uses to migrate should departments flex and grow over time.

The building pioneers an alternative to the standard Higher Education model of academic offices arrayed along long impersonal corridors. Instead, the cluster floorplate allows each department to have its own identifiable department neighbourhood with academic offices focused around a space for gathering, and student social learning spaces in close proximity. Such spaces build upon the sense of belonging and departmental identity felt across the faculty. The brief called for over 180 10 sqm individual cellular offices and a mix of small shared cellular offices. Working with staff and students the office design was optimised down to 7 sqm which enabled the creation of dedicated departmental social learning spaces which form the doorstep to each departmental cluster. The area allocated for shared cellular offices was combined to provide academic studios which form the centre of each cluster. Each individual office retains the same linear area of bookcases as the traditional offices, and each has a full- length window. One-to-one meetings can take place within the offices, but larger meetings can take place within the cluster. With its distinct form and fluted terracotta façade the building has become a new landmark on campus, a beacon promoting wider engagement with the Arts. David Coates, Assistant Professor in the School of Creative Arts, Performance and Visual Cultures, comments: “You can’t help but be wowed by this building.”

Related Stories
Sustainability is the ‘root’ to success for Bristol’s dentists
Akshay Khera, architecture director from the Bristol studio of global design practice BDP, explains why now is the perfect time to retrofit with a look at plans for the new Bristol Dental School
York to create inspiring and welcoming campus centre
Iconic design characterises this new student building at York University
Transforming London South Bank University
From concrete eyesore to glorious new campus centrepiece, the LSBU is re-born. Stafford Critchlow, Project Director, WilkinsonEyre, and Laura Smith, Engineering Director, BDP, explain how they did it
New low-energy wing at Cotswolds School approved
Timothy Tasker Architects has achieved planning consent for a new sustainable school development in the heart of the Cotswold AONB which is due to break ground in December 2022.
Not your typical nursery – and all the better for it
Emerging architects Delve’s new nursery project, The Learning Tree in Romford, for leading childcare and education company Storal is unusually airy and playful

Login / Sign up