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Manalo & White creates a tree-filled education space inside a Slough factory shed
Aspire is a unique community project that aims to teach local school children about big business by bringing the two together under one roof. Manalo & White have developed a hybrid design, combining elements of classroom, office and factory to provide a learning space that excites students and CEO’s alike.
The unit - previously used for the manufacture of aircraft parts - was made available to Aspire for conversion into an education space. M&W carefully pared it back to its shell state and lined it with natural elements like cork-rubber and wool felt to soften the industrial interior. Existing elements were adapted simply such as the concrete floor which was stripped of its grey, industrial paint finish to expose the beach-like aggregate underneath.
The typically poor acoustics of a warehouse space create a barrier to concentration and therefore learning. These were improved with the introduction of foam sound dampers and an array of tri-ply timber fins suspended from the ceiling which also modulate the sunlight from existing skylights and create a more human scale ceiling line below the high roof of the unit.
The centre had to house many different environments for learning and these are defined not with partitions but with large elements conceived as big pieces of furniture. Each area has a specific purpose: presentations, meetings, workshopping, group activities, and the open layout encourages flow between these to challenge preconceived ideas about teaching practices. Manalo & White worked closely with furniture company MARK Product to produce colourful loose furniture and bespoke seating booths that subtly reinforce the qualities of each learning space.
Bleacher seating takes advantage of the tall warehouse space to create optimal sight lines for students during lectures whilst providing storage space for furniture. The existing roller shutter to the factory floor was retained, to allow mobile food or drinks vendors to drive in and cater for social events. Large new windows make the metal shed feel less factory-like and provide a connection with the industrial estate outside, exposing the centre’s activities inside.
“It was fantastic to have an opportunity to work directly with the educators on a new typology which saw an equivalence between a secondary school student and a CEO from one of the local blue chip operations. The big, tough nature of the warehouse called for a playful architectural response. Working with it rather than against it gave us all the advantages of the industrial qualities of the space; a hefty materiality, good top lighting, and very high ceilings.” - Brian Greathead, Manalo & White
Photography by Morgan O’Donovan.