Back to the future…

People can be unpredictable. Behaviour, social, cultural and economic circumstances are always changing. Rather than trying to design a utopia that can never exist, is it not better to think of our buildings and spaces as tools, built to evolve and adapt, meeting our needs now and into the future. We think so.

I was recently given a guided tour of a relatively new performing arts building at one of Leicester’s Universities, as part of a project we’re involved in concerning the design of modular, creative spaces.

The facility is impressive – a series of simple, flexible studio and performance spaces, which are used for rehearsals, performances and a multitude of other arts related uses. What seems most effective is their simplicity – essentially square rooms with a variety of adaptable fixtures for lighting, staging, audience layouts (from traditional theatre style to ‘theatre in the round’, with a capacity of up to 120).

Unfortunately, there are also considerable problems with the building, which are preventing it’s occupiers from using it as it was intended. The most notable of these is the poor sound and vibration insulation between the studio spaces (which are stacked one on top of the other in a four storey building). This impact of this is substantial – it’s not possible to use two adjoining spaces at the same time (for performance), meaning the occupants have to carefully plan their usage to avoid the problem. This is a fundamental deficiency, which cannot be rectified easily (if at all). There are other issues – no toilets for the audience; no foyer space for them either; a balcony on the third floor, for the use of students, that is fenced off because it breaks every rule in the ‘don’t give students vertical opportunities’ handbook.

What’s been done about it? Essentially, nothing. As far as I know, the architects have never been back. Perhaps they don’t even know, maybe no-one thought to tell them. However this has come about, something like £5m of public money has been spent on something that simply doesn’t work.

Re-visiting a building or interior once it is occupied should be a statutory requirement. Or, at least, considered standard professional conduct. How else can we learn? With the best will in the world, architects, interior designers and other professional building consultants will never be able to perfectly predict the outcome of their design. From gaining an understanding of how the occupants actually use the spaces, to seeing technically what worked and what didn’t, surely there’s no other way to do this.

It seems obvious to us. Perhaps it’s because most of our clients become friends, I don’t think there’s a single project we’ve completed that we’ve not been back to at least twice since it’s completion. In some instances we’ve worked with our clients for many years following completion, assisting them with the gradual evolution of their spaces as their needs inevitably evolve over time.

Heterarchy provide interior architecture and design services for business, private individuals and religious organisations. For more information contact us >

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