RIBA Awards 2016
North West Regional Award
The Built Environment, Skills and Enterprise Centre at Wirral Metropolitan College, Birkenhead delivers a leading facility for the acquisition of technical skills, providing a local skill-base to deliver elements of the wider Wirral Waters masterplan over the next 30 years
Bold colours and forms, robust materials, close attention to details and new blocks of trees transform a derelict dock edge into an iconic and memorable landscape in scale with the post-industrial waterside neighbourhood.
Andy Thomson, Director at BCA Landscape said, “it is always important for us to help create unique places for people to use and enjoy that go beyond the functionality of access and parking. Here students, visitors and staff at the new campus are able to enjoy their break times outdoors, reclining on the urban loungers amongst the maritime grasses. Beautiful views over the docks are framed by the iconic red steel picture frames, inspired by the nearby Dock structures.”
- Wirral Waters seeks to transform 500 acres of semi derelict dockland on Wirral.
- BCA Landscape are the landscape architects for the campus.
- Parkinson Inc. are the urban designers and masterplanners for Wirral Waters
- It is focused on the Great Floats – the historic name of the water bodies of the Docks – of the Birkenhead and Wallasey Docks.
- The project sits on the opposite banks of the River Mersey to Liverpool City Centre with views of Liverpool’s ‘world class’ skyline.
- Wirral Waters forms part of the Government granted Mersey Waters Enterprise Zone.
- The project was funded collaboratively with the financial support of the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA), the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), Wirral Met and Peel.
- Morgan Sindall plc, the main contractor working on the Wirral Waters Campus, is a UK construction, infrastructure and design business with a network of local offices.
- The building was designed by Glenn Howells Architects.
Wirral Met College
The new Wirral Metropolitan College Campus at Wirral Waters is within the Mersey Waters Enterprise Zone, and is a dedicated built environment, skills and enterprise centre.
Richard Mawdsley, project director at Peel, said: “Wirral Met College will be the first new building within Wirral Waters. Since we received planning permission for Wirral Waters back in May 2012, we’ve been focussed on site preparation, remediation and infrastructure – all of which take time and all are needed to enable us to start delivery. The new college is all about putting skills and training at the centre of Wirral Waters. Wirral Met are an exemplar further education college and will be training young adults with relevant skills aligned to local industries.”
The Wirral Waters regeneration project, launched by Peel Holdings in 2006 is one of the largest private sector led regeneration projects in the country with a 30+ year build programme and an estimated overall investment of c. £4.5 billion.
The vision for the project was to create an education building of high architectural merit that acts as an ‘essay in construction’. The scheme comprises a total of 3,776 sq m of floor space including gas and plumbing, electrical, painting and decorating, brick and plastering, joinery workshops as well as classrooms.
This building, though relatively humble in size has the tall order of being the first building in the wider Wirral Waters masterplan and is instrumental in setting the standard for the wider development. Peel Holdings have a strong commitment to design quality and realise its value in creating an attractive, distinct destination and higher end values. Peel’s brief for College building is to start the journey for Wirral Waters creating a distinctive place that is rooted in Wirral. This building and surrounding landscape is a realisation of this design quality ambition and agenda established by Peel.
The project was also fast-tracked to get the building opened for the new academic year in September 2015. The contractor, Morgan Sindall has managed to build the college in just ten months to meet the requirements of the Skills Funding Agency. The simple, rational building design has also helped to keep the project within this tight timeframe.
Response to site
As the college is the first scheme on site, with a prominent position on the water and on the busy Tower Road the building is designed as a 360 degree form as it’s viewed from all sides. The Birkenhead docks have a proud history of shipbuilding with both the first iron-hulled ship and the first U-boat both built in the Wirral Waters site. As the site slowly fills with newer building typologies, the intention is to reflect the historic dockland vernacular; creating a form that recognised its setting, acknowledging the traditional saw-tooth warehouses seen around the docks.
A clear and defined entrance was positioned on Tower Road with uninterrupted views through to the water visible from the reception. In its heyday the prominent brick Hydraulic Tower adjacent to the site provided power to the dockland structures, one of which is the distinctive red steel bridge on Tower Road. The intention has been to bring this theme through the approach to the building and landscape, creating a series of red landscape structures and even bringing the red metalwork into the building as an accent colour, intertwining the scheme in its locality. All external materials had to be robust enough to deal with the harsh marine environment with crisp contemporary details to create something that is rooted in place, honest and beautiful.
The college is organised around a simple, legible layout. Central to the scheme is the ‘Street’: a 6m wide atrium space running the full-length of the building acting as the focal point for meeting and studying. The Street provides an uninterrupted vista from the entrance to the water’s edge. Off this street are the classrooms and workshops. The refectory is placed adjacent to the water’s edge providing students and staff with a space to enjoy the dockland setting with doors opening up onto the newly created landscape square. On the first floor large picture windows frame the views over the dock and back over the Mersey towards Liverpool’s skyline.
The scheme is the first building in the £4.5 billion masterplan and acts as a benchmark for the wider Wirral Waters development. It has a strong, sculptural form reflecting its dockland heritage. A successful creative collaboration between Peel, the college, the design team and the contractor has managed to achieve a successful building and landscape that is fit for purpose but also has, in the process helped to shape both the careers of the students who use the building and help to change the future of this once prospering dock.
Client : Peel Holdings
End User : Wirral Metropolitan College
Masterplanner : Parkinson Inc
Architect : Glenn Howells Architects
Landscape Architect : BCA Landscape
Planning : Turleys
Project Management and QS : DBK
Main Contractor : Morgan Sindall
Structures and Civil Engineering : Jacobs Engineering
M&E Engineers : Hoare Lea
All images by Karl Glenn and BCA Landscape unless otherwise stated.