Robustness, elegance and warmth were key reasons why Make Architects chose to use brick inside and out at its new amenities building for the University of Nottingham

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English bond without headers forms a high-level peforated screen in the dining hall
English bond without headers forms a high-level peforated screen in the dining hall · Credit: Martine Hamilton Knight

Some 12 years after setting up, Make Architects has completed its first brick building. The Barn, a 4,250m2 amenities building for the University of Nottingham, forms a key focal point along a newly created pedestrianised Boulevard running through the Sutton Bonington campus.

The Barn is configured with a double-height, brick-clad walkway stretching the full length of the building along the north-south axis of the Boulevard, with brick piers rising 8.1m. This key route through the three-storey building is flanked by the main staircase, which leads up to a double-height, 600-seater dining room, again clad in brick.

Given the need for a highly durable building, brick was the obvious choice from the start both inside and out, according to lead architect David Patterson.

‘Brick is a very robust, natural material that people really respond positively to and will keep its original appeal – even if it does get knocked about this just adds to the character of it,’ he says, adding that brick also fulfils the aspiration for a very calm, elegant and welcoming interior. 

‘From day one I knew it would be brick so could set out everything to standard brick dimensions to minimise cut bricks and wastage,’ he says.

After experimenting with samples on site, Make chose Leicester Multi Cream Stock in preference to the redder tones of more local brick used elsewhere on the campus, in order to achieve the very light interior they wanted. 

‘We wanted to create a warm interior and maintain a real connection to the landscape by blurring the transition from the inside to the outside,’ Patterson says.

  • Make chose a creamier brick than the red local stock elsewhere on the campus to create a warm interior and blur the transition from inside to out.
    Make chose a creamier brick than the red local stock elsewhere on the campus to create a warm interior and blur the transition from inside to out. · Credit: Martine Hamilton Knight
  • A carefully angled brick balustrade is a feature of the main staircase.
    A carefully angled brick balustrade is a feature of the main staircase. · Credit: Martine Hamilton Knight
  • Detail.
    Detail. · Credit: Martine Hamilton Knight

In the dining hall, the top lighting accentuates the materiality of the walls and gives fantastic changes in appearance throughout the day, he adds.

As well as its aesthetic qualities, the brick helps provide a thermal buffer in the entrance areas and concourse to cope with the sudden arrival of large groups of people. 

In the dining hall, the brick is laid in an English bond without headers to achieve a perforated screen at high levels. 

This void provides acoustic treatment and ventilation, with air drawn out through the screen. The latter, Patterson says, is also reminiscent of the venting in some farm buildings – appropriate given that students on this campus study agriculture.

The wide main staircase also required special brick treatment, with the design of a carefully angled brick balustrade and soldier coursing around the treads creating subtle variation. 

‘We could really take the material, understand the module and work with it,’ Patterson says.

The brick is combined with a limited interior palette of timber and painted metalwork.

The Barn incorporates social and gathering spaces as well as a faith room, staff common room and study facilities. Its brick form is supplemented by a brick covered link adjoining one corner and running parallel to the Boulevard.

Completed for £5.84m, The Barn is the second building that Make has designed on the campus and its fifth for the university overall.