London based architects Patel Taylor – headed by Pankaj Patel and Andrew Taylor – have just completed two new buildings for the Essex University campus, drawing on the complex's original 1960s utopian masterplan, by Architects Cooperative Partnership.
The additions include a new wing for the Albert Sloman Library and the Silberrad Student Centre, which together create a natural gateway for the site, framing the east-west axis at the northern edge of the campus.
This isn't the first time Patel Taylor have worked on this site. The firm's stainless steel clad Ivor Crewe Lecture Theatre was finished in 2006, meaning the pair were already familiar with the campus' needs and peculiarities, ready to make the most of the new commission's challenges and apply their own spin.
And so they did; originally commissioned as a single building, the two functions were eventually split into two separate structures by the architects, 'allowing each new building to have its own identity'. Explains Taylor, 'The original 1960s plan placed student life at its heart and we're now bringing this into the 21st century.'
Aesthetically, Patel Taylor took their cue from the campus' existing buildings and arrangement – the library, for example, clearly references its original 1963 building.
The student centre, on the other hand, 'rests on a deck of stone at the edge of a lake' and creates a dialogue with the library's composition nearby. Irregular glazing references the correspondingly erratic window patterns found across the campus.
This commission's centrepiece, though, is without a doubt the sculptural steel and oak staircase, which elegantly cantilevers through a three storey atrium, twisting and turning until it lands by the new centre's visitor reception.
The library and student centre are just two new projects for the university, whose buildings are currently undergoing a major overhaul. More upgrades and redesigns are set to follow in the next few years.