A Southbank University building that is a pleasant neo – Scandinavian surprise on the inside. The exterior, one has to confess, is a less than scintillating contribution to the urban fabric, but don’t let this put you off the neo-Ralph Erskine interior (by a partner of BDP who used to work with the late master). It’s a simple enough scheme, with a tall atrium backed by stacked teaching floors served by a double-loaded corridor, and with cores at each end. The atrium serves as a positive focal point and, instead of the proverbial ‘pods’, it offers stacked timber – clad meeting rooms with open decks above them. It all appears to be well-liked and used. (Although additional — and instrumentally redundant — access decks around the classroom side of the atrium would have helped to engender a buzz of usage and enjoyment.)
But why is the outside the way it is? Clearly, a practice on a tight budgetary rein has to make strategic choices. BDP are among those architectural firms who long ago formally endorsed the reality that one is either in business or out of practice — and detailing a job like this can lead to losses. But that is exactly what they’ve done — successfully — within the atrium. And they also put such effort into (of all places) the escape stairs. However, whatever the hidden truth to the building’s muteness regarding the process engendering the reasons why its form is the way it is, the facade is bad news.
The building’s name (‘Key-worth’) belies the reality of intrinsic architectural values at odds with one another.
But, otherwise, the building is indicative of what current university buildings (serving ‘new ways of learning’) are all about.
If Erskine interests you, there is the Ark and the Millennium Peninsula housing to see. Other university buildings to see include those at Imperial, the LSE, Chelsea Art School and Queen Mary’s, as well as Libeskind’s work at the Metropolitan.