In August 2016, Futures for Somerset appointed Grainge Architects to work with Richard Huish College to design new accommodation for Visual Arts and Computing on the campus. Situated in a prominent position, the aim for the project was to replace an outdated 1950s building with a new flagship development that would increase both the quality and quantity of facilities for these courses. The aspiration to deliver University level teaching spaces for sixth form pupils, in an inspiring contemporary building was an important driver.
Located adjacent to the South Road Conservation Area, care was taken to achieve a sensitive design that met the aspirations of the College without detriment to the setting. The two-storey building takes the form of two rectilinear blocks connected by a central circulation zone. The western block follows the alignment of the adjacent buildings and courtyard, while the eastern block is subtly splayed to run parallel to South Road.
The proportion and setting out of the windows, along with the zinc standing seam cladding, reference the rhythm and ordered architecture of the existing Victorian villas. A large, north lit practical art studio and connected MAC Suite at first floor are accessed via a glazed double height entrance lobby and stair. Ground floor accommodation comprises two IT teaching spaces and two general classrooms. The sixty person art studio is designed as a single space to maximize flexibility for teaching, with bespoke moveable screens to divide the area and provide display facilities for end of term exhibitions. The exposed steel frame accentuates the generous vaulted ceilings above, with bespoke lightweight lighting rigs and mesh-ceiling grids allowing students to display and hang artwork.
In order to provide natural light to the centre of the 195sqm art studio, the sixty-thirty degree pitched roof is divided in two elements, with a series of large north-facing roof lights in each creating an even source of daylight throughout. Externally the two pitched roofs create a striking form, emphasised further by the zinc standing seam cladding wrapping from wall to roof via a concealed gutter.
The College required the building to be occupied by October half term, several weeks ahead of the programmed completion date. Having been novated to develop the detailed design by the appointed contractor Halsall Construction, Grainge Architects worked closely with Halsall to assess construction methods and reach a waterproof stage more quickly. This allowed both the exterior and interior of the building to be progressed simultaneously, accelerating the construction programme and bringing forward the completion ahead of schedule.