Situated in central Norwich, the five-storey Guntons building is part of the Norwich University of the Arts campus. Originally built as an agricultural machinery showroom in 1914, the building is home to several University departments including fashion, sculpture, graphics and illustration. In recent years the building has undergone numerous works to refurbish and modify the building to meet the current needs of the University.
The focus of the brief was to increase the awareness between the different departments, providing students and staff with opportunities for engaging and interacting with each other across the various disciplines taught within the building. Prior to the works the building was not fit for this purpose. Vertical circulation was convoluted and disorientating, and each floor was visually separated from the other. Staircases were awkwardly located, dated and visually unattractive.
The main ground floor entrance was shared between pedestrians and vehicles. Not only was this unsuitable and potentially hazardous – it also created a gloomy entrance environment that divided the ground floor area of the building. A redundant electricity substation was positioned towards the rear, occupying valuable space. This area, together with the floors above, was identified as an area that could be remodelled to address the client’s brief.
A central atrium rationalises the vertical circulation and visually opens up the studios on each floor. The project has transformed the building, as new wide stairs, landings and walkways at different levels now provide greater opportunities for interaction between building users. The atrium brings natural light deep into the core of the building, illuminating not only the atrium space and staircases, but also bringing additional natural light into the studios on either side. The project allowed existing facilities within the building to be improved and upgraded: new WC facilities were provided while the substation enclosure was demolished to make way for more workshop space.
We used a rich palette of robust materials that reflect the building’s semi-industrial character while creating an elegant and contemporary space at the heart of the building. The dominant feature is a steel staircase rising through the atrium and reminiscent of walkways in industrial wharf buildings. Dark self coloured steel cladding to the exterior contrasts with bright galvanised steel used for the treads and interior cladding, and its tough character is tempered by carefully concealed lighting positioned beneath the handrail. Polished screed and steel plate floors enhance the industrial aesthetic. Crisp white painted plaster to the walls and landings reflects the natural light from above and enhances the sense of space, and the intermediate landings are cleverly concealed within the structure to simplify their form. Full height glazed partitions admit light into the studios from the atrium, giving glimpses of the many creative activities taking place throughout the building.
The project has radically improved the accessibility of the building to students, staff and the public. A new glazed main entrance and foyer replace the original entrance, offering a much more welcoming environment and lifting the building’s street presence.
James Brittain Photography