Stride Treglown's rectilinear community building in Bristol enriches the lives of local residents – not least because of its clean lines and accessible courtyard garden
The inner city East Barton district of Bristol has just got itself a toddlers' play area, a neighbourhood centre and adult education classrooms – all contained in the same building. The Light House slots snugly into a low-rise cluster of buildings owned and occupied by the area's long-standing community organisation, Barton Hill Settlement. In architectural style, by contrast, it stands out from its neighbours.

Designed by local practice Stride Treglown, the community building is crisply rectilinear in form and has a large roof terrace, whereas its neighbours nestle under traditional pitched roofs. Instead of white rendered walls, it is clad in warm brown timber-veneered panels. And at the front, a free-standing louvre screen shades a raised verandah overlooking a courtyard garden.

The four-storey building is supported by a steel frame, allows the interior to be divided by stud partitions that can be rearranged to suit the changing needs of the organisation.

The building even manages to introduce a technical innovation to Britain, in the form of the Parklex 1000 timber-veneered cladding panels. The architect originally specified a rainscreen system of plywood panels, but was concerned about exposing the end-grain to the weather. Instead a similar-looking but more durable product was specified after the architect spotted it at a small art gallery in Paris.

Parklex 1000, which is made in Spain, has been certified as maintenance-free. It consists of high-density panels only 10 mm thick, in which layers of natural timber, kraft paper and wood fibres are bonded together with resins and compressed at high pressure and temperatures.

  Joanna Holmes, the settlement's senior manager, says "the building fits us exactly". She particularly likes its relationship to the courtyard garden. "Dominic Eaton, the partner at Stride Treglown, noticed that the garden was at the heart of what we do. So he created the verandah and a double-height social room overlooking the garden as a multiple gateway into the building. These are spaces where people can meet each other, and it really works like that."

The 925 m2 Light House was developed at a cost of £1.3m and funded by the government's Community at Heart and New Deal for Communities programmes. Although it is modest in size, its architectural qualities are not lost on Holmes. "This is an area of great deprivation," she comments, "and we believe everything we do should be of the highest quality. This building is of the highest quality, and this does huge things for morale and raises expectations. We used to have about 1300 visits from local residents a week. Now we have 2000."