The Education Buildings Scotland Conference seeks to bring together different sectors across the learning estate to celebrate what works in re-thinking spaces for learning. It allows them to share insights on what’s possible to support improvement. A&DS has invited a number of design professionals to share their ideas. The focus of the blogs is on the voice of young people. In this blog Sophie Logan, Architect, Hoskins Architects, writes about the development of the Bridge Arts Centre and how it became a hub of learning and community participation.
The Bridge Arts Centre, Easterhouse, started life as a design competition for Glasgow City Council’s (GCC) new Easterhouse Cultural Campus, bringing together a range of facilities on a site nestled between the existing swimming pool and John Wheatley College. GCC understood that co-locating a range of facilities could potentially increase participation across a diverse range of learning opportunities, from swimming to literacy, from dance to learning a musical instrument. The Bridge opened in 2006 and has become a successful hub of learning and community participation within the east of Glasgow. Early and ongoing engagement with the vast range of user groups was key to this success, as it drew out information on what was important and allowed us to test our ideas and understanding of the site.
The new centre was to include an auditorium, rehearsal space, library, café and sound recording studios, all linked with the swimming pool and college buildings. The obvious solution would have been to create a new building, or a series of buildings, linked with a linear foyer space that connected each of the facilities. Through consultation with client and learner groups, it became apparent such a solution would only increase barriers to accessing facilities, rather than unlocking the benefits of them being located together.
Hub for Services
From our first visit to the site, we were struck by how well used the walking routes across it were, connecting different services and residential areas in the neighbourhood. It was also very clear that Easterhouse lacked a central focus. Through our consultation events, we were able to test these assumptions with a range of conceptual sketches and models that allowed everyone to share ideas and, with an excellent and thoroughly engaged client team, create a real sense of ownership for the new building. Those initial discussions informed the final concept which sought to link the different building functions and volumes with an intuitive flow of space.
Beneath an oversailing roof spanning between the auditorium volume and adjacent college, the library inhabits a series of stepped terraces, connected with gentle ramps that maintain the original routes through the site and make new connections with the college and swimming pool. The building has clearly defined functions, however, there are no preconceived ways in which the space must be used. The agile layout allows pre and post-performance gathering to happen naturally, alongside which there will be groups of students studying, reading, observing an exhibition on the ‘external’ wall of the auditorium or simply passing through on their way to meet a friend, or home from school (occasionally, though strictly against the rules, on a bike!).
The Bridge was one of our studio’s earliest projects and it has shaped the way we practice to this day. As a young practice, we were keen to engage with everyone; we were not in a position to reference a raft of other projects where we had ‘done this before’ and this turned out to be a clear strength. We didn’t attempt to impose our own preconceived ideas on a community who had much to teach us about their own experiences and neighbourhood, and the project was all the better as a result. We quickly came to understand that our most successful projects are positively shaped by listening to the people who will use them.
Twelve years on much has changed in the way in which community and education buildings are procured and built in the UK, and we now have a planning system that mandates engagement more widely with stakeholder groups, often within a matrix of defined outcomes. As a studio we work within this system but strive to create opportunities that enable everyone to engage in a way that allows us to draw out more than a ‘feeling’ of consultation; this process, developed organically over the 20 years since our studio was formed, helps us recognise the important moments that become embedded at the heart of an architectural concept. In turn, the people who joined in know that we truly listened and understood their ideas, and the result is the delivery of a building that truly belongs to the community.
Image (detail): Exterior of The Bridge Art Centre, Easterhouse by Andrew Lee.