Marc O Riain (CIT) and Neil Tobin (RKD)
Department of Architecture, Cork Institute of Technology
The Architecture Factory is a third level education and learning space situated in a disused split-level warehouse. The brief was informed primarily by cost effective occupancy and the desire for studio pedagogy. The design avoided traditional subdivision of walls and ceilings; requiring sub divided servicing and expensive firewalls. 6 shipping containers function as lecturer's offices dividing the space it into open studios separated from a mezzanine by an open boulevard acting as an exploration-learning lab, an opportunistic exhibition space, and the main circulation. Creating a visually open connection between occupants to encourage interaction between peer groups.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you? Who is the at-risk population, and what behavior do you seek to change in this population?
The co-location of students in existing studios spread across the campus was yielding co-dependent learning outcomes Students were learning form their peers through exposure. This was the critical to the formation of the project brief. We wanted to create spaces that invited co-learning. The open boulevard creates both a circulation and exploration space. The existing building was a warehouse. We wanted to occupy the space in a cost effective and low impact intervention.
Students learn from students as well as lecturers in a studio environment. When we build walls we create barriers to learning. Prior to designing this project we tested the learning outcomes in practice by creating shared studio spaces. Peer learning improved outcomes dramatically when students were directly exposed to their peers work and techniques. Therefore in designing the Architecture Factory we wanted to create an open environment based on a peer learning pedagogy.
The initial concept therefore sought to avoid a traditional subdivision of walls and ceilings, which would require sub divided servicing and fire rated corridors. In a very deep plan building the penetration of natural light, air and a sense of space would be important factors in the user experience.
The basic scheme involved the introduction of 6 shipping containers, functioning as lecturer’s offices, occupying the lower half of the space dividing it into open studios. Physically the higher part of the warehouse allowed for the intervention of a mezzanine, which could be separated from the containers by an open boulevard. Physically the ground floor of the mezzanine with a lack of direct natural lighting would suit principally seminar, lecture and storage spaces. At either end where perimeter fenestration permits natural light, enclosed studios give senior years more acoustic privacy. Floor to ceiling frameless glazing minimally delineate the recessed acoustic boundaries. The elevation of the mezzanine avoids the creation of a long monolithic horizontal interior façade, favoring smaller vertically-oriented proportioned ‘houses’ with connected balconies. The glazed interior balcony is planned as an anamorphic projection distorting the perspectival emphasis depending on direction of travel. The balcony is intended to function as a busy first floor thoroughfare connecting the main campus to the car park via external bridges. Again the floor to ceiling transparencies offers excitement and vista to the activities below, on the one hand exposing the occupants but the other communicating function and learning.
The design intent was to create a visually open connection between occupants to encourage interaction. The physical response to the building adaption involved a mezzanine in the double height space and used shipping containers as offices dividing the space into open studios.
Reuse and industrial heritage strongly influenced the scheme. The use of containers reflects the manufacturing process. The white and grey provides an interior canvas carefully refined to minimize complexity.
The immediate audience are students and lecturers of the Department of Architecture. The boulevard opens the audience up to the rest of the college and the general public by way of exhibition space. Seminar spaces under the mezzanine engage industry professionals.
The existing services and containment was stripped out and new south facing roof lights fitter over the future studio spaces. Three 1200mm windows were removed to slide in the used shipping containers. When in place we constructed the metal framed mezzanine on site. Once completed the first floor was poured on the metal deck using 100mm of Ecocem. The first phase of compartments were built under the new mezzanine and second flux servicing. The main warehouse floor was ground back and a fresh concrete screed poured to homogenise the floor finish. Once complete and walls were decorated and open plan servicing completed. Glazed partitions flowed for the mezzanine and shipping containers. The main floor was sealed and painted with an ultra low VOC flooring. Mezzanine floors were carpeted followed quickly by furniture. The timeline to completion and commissioning was 26 weeks.
The industrial heritage of the building strongly influenced how the scheme aesthetic maintained the genius loci. The use of containers reflects the manufacturing process. The white and grey provides an interior canvas carefully refined to minimize complexity. Color proportionality and density emphasizes the containers but is sensitively balanced not to perceptively dominate the space.
The context of converting a deep pan building is difficult as the distance from natural light and air can create poor interior environments. We needed to retain the height and penetrate the deep plan with high roof lights, so there is an embodied-operational energy compromise. To maintain the embodied energy of the structure can be offset against the heating of high space. However the area to volume ratio is very energy efficient.
The project addresses the existing fabric of our cities. It is facilitating a local dialogue on existing urban grain, especially in a Port city. The industrial heritage of our cities contribute to their character. The absolute replacement of high density modern blocks would replace the sense of uniqueness. This project is not a theory but an exemplar of deep plan conversion.
The educational dialogue is empathised by the vertical project. A 5-day Vertical project sees students work on a design task in teams, with the main outcome being a legacy of openness and cooperation. At the beginning of the year this communicates to students that collaboration is encouraged and the psychological barriers to cooperation are lowered.
The space has captured the imagination of the college and everyone whip experiences the space. the space is democratically free with an openness that is reinforced throughout the culture of its operation. Students have the power. This is the way a college should be!
The space is immensely popular with staff, students and the many visitors. The space has promoted vigorous activity, play, fun and engagement in learning. Students feel a great sense of pride and ownership. Where former studios were uninspiring often resulted in apathetic and indifferent participants, the Architecture Factory is all consuming and full of energy.
The architectural strategy imbues the pedagogical approach through a simple yet effective design. The low-cost intervention utilizes ready-mades in a functional and innovative way, having an effect on teaching ambitions and learning outcomes. I’d love to teach there! – Hayley Eber
The project presents a different approach to shipping containers by using them not just as containers, but as walls and dividers of space. A great project that defines space without creating barriers, providing visual interest and continuity. – Yen Ha & Michi Yanagishita
This incredibly straight-forward project—in the end, it’s just a bunch of shipping containers mounted inside a room—actually reveals what’s so appealing about shipping containers in the first place. They are readymade interiors, pop-up rooms already suited for reuse, and here they’ve managed to escape the often heavy-handed gestures architects seem to think these containers require. But sometimes thinking outside the box means recognizing the box for what it is. – Geoff Manaugh