An unbroken stream of redevelopment projects at Lancaster University's campus by John McAslan + Partners (JMP) represents a remarkable design odyssey. The practice has designed and delivered campus masterplans and individual buildings for several universities in London, Manchester, Southampton and Kingston. But as JMP director Tony Skipper puts it:
"The whole relationship with Lancaster, stretching back to 2005, has become very compelling and highly effective, architecturally and educationally. Lancaster University is already an architecturally significant modernist campus, so it is deeply satisfying to be able to prove that these big set-pieces can be redeveloped successfully without ignoring what already exists. We take great pride in the trust the university continues to place in us - we do seem to grasp each other's key issues quickly."
The university has a top-ten national rating for research and its ability to maintain its position with steadily improved facilities is a key issue on a campus whose strong formal layout, designed by Gabriel Epstein and Peter Shepheard in the 1960s, was based on cloisters, a bisecting spine route, connected buildings three or four-storey high, and parking areas outside the formal nucleus.
Since delivering the campus development Masterplan in 2006, and commencing the design of the BREEAM Excellent rated Postgraduate Statistics Centre the same year, JMP have delivered several very different schemes. All have been rooted in our increasingly detailed physical and operational understanding of the 200-acre campus, and evolving educational needs within the hilltop collegiate tableau.
JMP's Lancaster projects, led by Tony Skipper and Matt Burl, have responded to quite different architectural, space-use, or public realm challenges. The Postgraduate Statistics Research Centre, within the Fylde College segment of the campus, brings a far higher material and formal quality to the eastern edge of the campus. "Here," commented the eminent architectural historian Stefan Muthesius, "is an attempt to inculcate the civic, the missing palazzos of the hill town: a controlled classical object adjacent to the rustic picturesque; simple roof lines, rectangular plan form, front lawn the civic object against its vernacular background."
JMP's projects at Lancaster University include: the remodeling of the ground floor of the Bowland College building to create the Learning Zone; the transformation of the Grizedale College Building, a mix of new build and refurb, that creates the university's first city centre bar; the Charles Carter building with its clear-cut formal presence that celebrates its pragmatic structure; the Human Resources Centre, which carves out a public space in this existing point-block building to relieve the internal gloom of the original deep plan, and creates a new series of group training rooms; and, currently on site, the new Engineering Building which features a dramatic atrium providing physical and visual links between all levels.
This range of projects cannot be seen as surgical-strike interventions: like any campus, Lancaster University remains an organism in physical and educational flux.
Jay Merrick, Architectural Journalist