Hult International Business School
Client/Owner: Hult International Business School
Architect: Sergison Bates Architects
Structural Engineer: Price & Myers
Main Contactor/Builder: Rooff Ltd
Joinery Company: TJS, Adcon
Furniture Designer & Maker: Simon Jones Studio
Graphic Designer: Graphic Thought Facility
Wood Supplier: Brooks Bros (UK) Ltd
Wood Species: Douglas Fir from USA, Elliotis Pine Plywood from Brazil
The former St. George’s Brewery on Commercial Road in Whitechapel, a historic landmark from the Victorian era, was identified as the ideal location for Hult’s first UK undergraduate campus.
The Grade II-listed brick building was recently extended with an open concrete-frame shell and a tower housing student accommodation, generating a rich mixture of spatial characters. We started by studying and recording the qualities of these spaces and made an “inventory of rooms”, plotting their scale, material and atmosphere.
Our ambition was to complement and enhance the character of the spaces as found, drawing attention to ceiling height differences, column sizes and existing surfaces, and to organise the campus so that students and staff would experience a variety of spaces throughout their day.
The disparate set of spatial conditions required an overall strategy for threading new construction in and around the building. We explored the idea of using a single material to provide a unifying theme that would allow the project to be read as a coherent whole.
Timber carpentry was the material of choice, as no other would have offered the same breadth of options: flexibility in detailing, the ability to grade the size of the various elements and adjust geometries to suit specific spatial conditions and use requirements. The new elements we introduced varied in their structural, spatial and performance requirements, and timber proved ideal in addressing design challenges within the construction logic of the material and architectural language of the project.
A new stair was inserted into the space of the old light well, opening up spatial connections between floor plates. The stair is the project’s centerpiece: deliberately generous, it adjusts and extends to create spaces to pause and meet, creating opportunities for chance encounters. Cranked steel stringer beams were threaded into the void to support the stair: carpentry is joined and sections are assembled giving it its tectonic character.
Here the flexibility of timber is evident: studs can be routed to house steel fins or rebated to accommodate glass to provide the structural strength required for safety and security. Plywood sheeting is used to span between uprights, while the Triboard multi-ply panel of treads and risers is hard-wearing and provides structural strength. Cover beads are slim and delicate, adding subtle detailing.
In the classrooms, large studs provide rigidity, while plywood panelling attenuates acoustic reverberation. Pieces are finer and more delicate in the carrels, and in the tables timber becomes cabinetry, more refined and honed, made from specially selected species. The use of routed timber elements in signage reinforces the connection to the historic brewery and the tradition of cooperage.
This varied set of responses is connected by a uniform visual language: the material presence of the timber is heightened by the application of a subtle lime wash, blending together the various elements, softening and unifying them and, in doing so, creating an equivalence between them and the materials of the existing building – painted brick, lime-washed timber and unsealed floors.
Further Sustainability Information: Timber is PEFC / FSC certified.