Flexibility and future proofing were key to Coffey Architects’ design for Norwich City College, whose aspirations for a strong, forward-looking building have won it Client of the Year
2023 RIBA East Awards
Client of the Year
The Digi-Tech Factory, Norwich
Coffey Architects for Norwich City College
Contract value: Confidential
Further education seems often to be the poorer sibling of higher education when it comes to funding, and inevitably this is frequently apparent in its buildings. Coffey Architects’ Digi-Tech Factory, commissioned by Norwich City College as a home for its new computer, technical and engineering courses, manages to buck this pattern.
The college succeeded in pulling together a number of funding sources, including the central government Towns Fund and local industry sponsors. It challenged the architect to do more than just meet its accommodation needs – to provide a building that would give the combined faculty a strong, fresh, forward looking identity. The building refers to industrial architecture and High Tech, clearly revealing its structure, servicing and envelope, and deliberately giving the new faculty the character of an exciting industrial workplace as much as a teaching institution.
Teaching spaces are rationally laid out along a central top lit four-storey spine that steps down with the slope of the site from the bold entrance loggia. Although constantly busy, this central space succeeds in being far more than just circulation; it is clearly a popular place for formal and private study and everyday socialising, enlivened by glimpses through the classrooms, workshops and studios to each side.
The choice of industrial construction techniques and materials facilitated a fast build, despite Covid, and relatively low cost. The materials chosen – steel, glass, perforated aluminium and concrete – are fundamentally high in embodied energy and become harder to justify every year. However, in this case they have been detailed by the architect to allow as much scope for flexibility and adaptability as possible, future-proofing the building to serve in a fast-changing field. There’s a rigorous adherence to a basic constructional module that allows use of standard parts and components and will make for straightforward alteration and reuse.
This is clearly a building of which the college, its staff and its students are enormously proud. It demonstrates the way in which really good architecture can uplift and give pleasure while also quietly and steadily performing its more prosaic function. The college must be praised for aiming high, fighting for funding and persevering in their aspirations, and the architect for rewarding that perseverance with such an excellent building.
See the rest of the RIBA East winners here. And all the RIBA Regional Awards here.
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RIBA Regional Awards 2023 sponsored by Gaggenau, EH Smith and Autodesk