Design award for thrifty new college

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
A college of just 1,000 students has proved that small is beautiful by winning an architecture award, beating off some of further education's most expensive new-builds

A college of just 1,000 students has proved that small is beautiful by winning an architecture award, beating off some of further education's most expensive new-builds.

Usworth Sixth Form College in Washington, near Sunderland, had a budget of just pound;8.8 million and left nearly pound;2m unspent, but still won the annual design prize run by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Prestigious developments such as the pound;20m Fashion Retail Academy in central London, sponsored by Topshop boss Philip Green, and the pound;35m rebuild of Darlington College were put in the shade by the frugal college in the North East. They had to settle for a commendation, along with the College of North West London's Kilburn Centre.

The giants of FE were not completely out of the picture, however. Matthew Boulton College shared the prize for its new campus in Birmingham's city centre, which takes the college from 1960s tower blocks into a modern space in the city's biggest regeneration project, a "learning quarter" with new campuses for Birmingham City University and Aston University.

Judges praised the pound;40m campus as an inspiring learning environment with excellent use of space.

The awards recognise the best design in FE buildings at a time when every college in the country is set to refurbish or rebuild its estate over the next eight years at a cost of up to pound;5bn - to be split between colleges and the LSC.

The architects behind the winning buildings earned a pound;5,000 prize. Dewjoc, responsible for Usworth College - a new sixth form, the result of collaboration between City of Sunderland College and local schools - said its aim was to turn a cramped site into a practical and impressive college building.

Peter Walker, its director, said: "The thing we like is that it's well used and well looked after. They're embracing the building. If people like a building, they look after it."

The design is built around an atrium, which offers an imposing entrance and eliminates congested corridors, reducing bad behaviour.

"We wanted to make it feel like an academic space," Mr Walker said. "Because it's a sixth form, we were looking to give it some gravitas."

A glass-fronted learning resource centre on the corner of the building lights up like a beacon at night, making the college a focal point.

The building uses natural light and ventilation wherever possible, in line with the Government's policy to achieve a zero carbon rating for all colleges by 2016.

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