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College feels wind of change

the 1960s may have been an age of inspiration, but any visitor to Sheffield College could testify to the era's reputation for creativity in art and music not always extending to building design. That is perhaps why architecture never produced its own Bob Dylan.

In further education, things have moved on. When Matthew Borland was working out what to do with Sheffield College he found that, this time, the answer really was blowing in the wind.

Charged with designing the new Castle College (Sheffield's vocational training campus), Mr Borland noticed the high winds on a nearby hill during a visit to meet the management.

It was then that Mr Borland and managers at the college dreamed up the bold idea that the replacement building should use wind-power to keep its energy costs to a minimum.

"We realised we were going up eight storeys with the new building and that would be very high," he said. "The site is near a hill where it is particularly windy, so the idea of the three wind turbines came from there.

"The idea is that the college is self-sufficient in energy when there is no teaching going on. That might not sound very impressive but it's a big thing in big buildings, which use a lot of power even when they are not being used."

The pillars will swivel so that the giant rotor-blades always get the full benefit of the changing wind direction. Each will produce 15kw of power, providing up to a quarter of all the energy used within the college.

It had been considered important to make the building as tall as possible because it sits in a bowl of low ground and is largely hidden from view from the surrounding area. The new building will be high enough to make its mark on the city's skyline - making sure FE no longer lives in the shadow of the city's university buidings.

"The existing building is not really fit for the purpose," he said. "In the new design, the atrium is the most important feature. Everyone will come in through there before going to the area they need to get to. The idea is to create a sense of community.

"We're providing refectories and places where people can get access to internet hot-spots. It's a case of thinking about the circulation of people around the college and creating a more interesting space.

"There will be flexible classroom space with removable walls so you can change them around to reflect the needs of the curriculum."

Another source of alternative energy at the college, if it can get funding, will be to cover the south-facing wall with solar panels. In addition to power generation, the building will also use stored rainwater to flush the toilets, it will harness as much natural light and cooling airflow as possible to keep the bills down and the fringes of the surrounding landscape will be designed to encourage wildlife.

The college now features on a Green Party website as an example of environmentally friendly design. It is expected to cost more than pound;40 million.

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