Technology has changed the way we communicate, as well as the way that we learn. Connectivity 24/7 has empowered students to choose their study environments and has transformed the educational setting overall. Coventry University in Coventry, England, took this to heart at the start of a five-year redevelopment plan spearheaded by London-based firm Hawkins\Brown. The first phase of these efforts yielded the 96,337-square-foot Coventry Student Enterprise Building—known as the Hub—which also serves as the social heart of the undergraduate community and a gateway to the surrounding city.
With a nod to the decorative glass on nearby Coventry Cathedral, Hawkins\Brown designed a taut curtain wall to envelop the building with a glass-frit pattern. In addition to bridging the aesthetics of past and present, the curtain wall also addresses environmental concerns by allowing the building to adapt the region’s changing weather patterns.
“To enhance the quality of the space, there was a desire to maximize the amount of natural light and to naturally ventilate spaces wherever possible,” explains Russell Brown, the firm’s director. “Curtain walling offered a solution to this whilst maintaining a coherent visual appearance across the building form.” Built-in features for noise dampening, such as acoustic baffle boxes that ventilate areas adjacent to noisy thoroughfares, keep the openness from disrupting privacy.
Pods for both studying and socializing
Within the building, to strike a balance between areas for quiet study and social spaces, Hawkins\Brown designed pods to provide varying degrees of privacy with considerations for group size, informality, duration of use, and data/power requirements. To maximize efficiency but keep a custom feel, the design team worked with a local manufacturer to prefabricate the pod units off-site in as many as five separate parts; the pods were then assembled on location. Going local was also a sustainable move that reduced the carbon footprint of transport.
Hawkins\Brown considered the various activities that could take place within each pod structure while maintaining a cohesive design vocabulary. The result: two different shapes, each with sub-types, constructed of timber frames clad in moisture-resistant MDF and laminate.
The circular “nests” or habitats—furnished with oversized pillows in easy-to-clean fabric or vinyl—are designated for more informal learning or social activities. House-shaped square pods offer booths that accommodate more traditional learning and meeting needs. Different pod permutations were applied to accommodate the varying activities: with and without a roof, low- or high-walled, and those with open sides compared to those more enclosed. Some pods integrate display screens, and all feature concealed power/data hookups.
The central focal point of the campus and a gateway to the rest of the community, the multipurpose Hub incorporates everyday amenities like a supermarket and coffee shop. And the Hub is well integrated with the rest of the campus. “The way that the building is sited provides much better pedestrian links with other faculty buildings and the center of Coventry,” says Professor Gerry Ackerman, Assoc. AIA, RIBA, PhD, and deputy director of estates and property for Coventry University. “[The building’s amenities and services] are accessible by members of the public, encouraging enhanced circulation with students whilst serving the local community.” Furthermore, the Hub’s yellow pods act as a wayfinding marker. In other campus facilities that it is designing, Hawkins\Brown intends to use different color cues to denote different spaces.
Designing for tomorrow’s learning patterns
Aside from offering students a comfortable learning and socializing environment, the Hub’s design concept responds to predictions of how students will learn in the future. Giving students options for places to interpret and apply information on their own terms is key. “Students are offered more choices and are able to take more control of their education, with a greater prominence for peer-to-peer learning,” Brown says.
With the Hub, Coventry University has built one of the largest examples of a building that provides proactive support for new educational methods through a combination of traditional study areas, meeting points, relaxation spaces, and numerous configurations for different learning styles. This embrace of change in education delivery does not end here. Hawkins\Brown is working on the second phase of Coventry’s campus redevelopment, as well as a concept for a facility devoted to researching professional and educational techniques.
Key Design Highlights
- Using color as a wayfinding tool identifies use for spaces in a culturally sensitive way.
- The freestanding pods were constructed onsite, allowing them to be moved or broken down and repurposed as the needs of students change.
- Extensive collaboration during the design process ensured the building meets the school’s needs to maximize flexibility and minimize redundancy.
- A glass curtain wall allows natural light to reach public areas, while the specialized glazing reduces glare and excessive heat gains and losses.
Coventry University Hub
Client Coventry University
Where Coventry, England
What 96,337 total square feet on five floors