Bournemouth Arts Institute's Enterprise Pavilion is an incubator unit for its graduates' fledgling firms. Martin Spring assesses the building's success - artistically and commercially
If art is expected to be inspiring, then Bournemouth Arts Institute is badly let down by its 1970s campus. It lies next to a sprawling suburb on the northern edge of town and the buildings, in a supposedly matching domestic vernacular, are submerged beneath oversized hipped roofs of brown concrete tiles.
The campus was crying out for something to perk it up, and at last it has got it. This is the grandly titled Enterprise Pavilion, which takes pride of place next to the main entrance to the campus and is as lively as the rest of the campus is dull.
You get the message as soon as you enter. You pass two three-storey blocks that display elaborate filigree works of external tubular columns and beams, projecting balconies, slender trellis beams and X-shaped cross-ties, all in white-painted steel. Behind the balconies rise the building facades in golden-coloured timber boarding alternating with pairs of glazed French windows. The second block is topped by a white fabric roof that rises to a mini-volcano.
Once you arrive at the front of the pavilion, you find yourself facing the zinc-clad gable end of the volcano block. The blank zinc wall is counterbalanced on the right by another three-storey block. This is an enigmatically plain, unadorned box faced in more golden timber boarding and punched through with a loose scattering of small windows.
The main entrance to the pavilion is set back between the two blocks. On stepping inside, you find yourself in an atrium that is light and airy despite being compact and narrow. On either side are more of the projecting balconies, intricate steelwork and french windows of the second block and the plain boarding of the third. Ahead is a narrow lift tower faced in royal blue, and all around are displayed a collection of paintings. Overhead, the volcano roof extends without interruption from the second block right across the atrium.
Designed by Lee/Fitzgerald Architects of London, the Enterprise Pavilion self-evidently fulfils the college's desire for a landmark building and gateway to the campus - something that should help put a little known art college on the wider British and European map. As for the building's purpose, this reaches beyond the college itself. It is an incubator unit that fosters college graduates starting up their own businesses. The £1.8m building and three full-time staff are entirely funded by the South West of England Regional Development Agency.
Creative industries are promoted by SWERDA as one of the region's three emerging business sectors, and the point of the incubator is to keep graduates around to make it happen. "Business in the creative arts normally goes off to Bristol, or out of the region completely to London and the South-east," says Matthew Desmier, the unit's operational manager.
Incubator units and innovation centres are becoming standard fixtures for universities and colleges. Bournemouth's Enterprise Pavilion breaks the mould in two ways: it is sited prominently within the college campus, and it has been provided with £1m's worth of IT equipment by the college. Tim Lee, partner of Lee/Fitzgerald, calls it a hybrid between innovation centre and college accommodation. As such it fosters synergy between the start-up businesses and the college, with students sharing the IT suites and exhibition areas and at least three of the graduates giving something back by teaching part-time.
The building fits into Lee/Fitzgerald's masterplan for the whole campus, which has flipped its orientation so that the main entrance is now at what used to be the rear of the campus. The enterprise pavilion along with a proposed reception building and entrance square take up much of what had been a sea of surface carparking. The masterplan follows a green transport policy that discourages commuting by car.
As for the incubator unit itself, Lee/Fitzgerald has housed 10 IT suites, including a digital photography studio and video and sound-editing suites, in the largely windowless timber-clad box. Twenty business start-up offices along with three well-equipped conference rooms are housed in the two other blocks with french windows, external balconies and white steelwork.
Yet Lee/Fitzgerald aspired to something more than a battery farm of identical one-room offices, each housing up to four desks. "Start-up firms can find it very lonely in incubator units," says partner Tim Lee. "So we tried to create a sense of community."
With this in mind, the three accommodation blocks surround an atrium. These blocks are effectively freestanding buildings contained within external walls on all sides, leaving the atrium as a glorified lightwell. A few puny electric radiator panels provide heat, and the fabric roof is simply an uninsulated tent.
That said, the atrium makes up in architectural and social liveliness what it loses in environmental controls. Looking out through their french windows from their offices, the start-up entrepreneurs can find stimulation in the intricate filigree work of the external balconies and shifting patterns of daylight and shadows set against the vivid blue lift shaft, the golden timber boarding of the IT block and the array of artwork on display. As they venture out of their offices, they interact with colleagues from other start-up businesses they pass on the access balconies.
Another leftover space has been put to good use. The airy top floor of one of the two start-up office blocks comes with minimal heating. It rises up into the white volcano roof and opens out into the atrium alongside it. It serves as an exhibition space for the creative businesses, and is shared by the college for end-of-year exhibitions. It opens onto a roof terrace for summer receptions.
Incubators are supposed to foster live cultures and this one seems to be doing its job. Start-up companies get free business advice from staff and a mentoring network draws in local professionals to weekly coffee mornings and monthly workshops. Subsidised rents for recent graduates work out at £128 a month for each desk. It's paying off. Desmier says tenants include graphic designers, a digital media company and three film production companies - and they are beginning to work together on projects.
Overall, an inspiring result for an inspiring building in a dull environment.
Client: The Arts Institute of Bournemouth
Masterplanner and architect: Lee/Fitzgerald Architects
Structural engineer: Fenton Holloway
Services engineer: Avus Consulting
Quantity surveyor: Denley King Partnership
Fabric structures subcontractor: Architen Landrell
Main contractor: George & Harding
What does an incubator cost?
“The architecture manages to punch above its weight because of the savings made possible by locating circulation in the unheated atrium outside the insulated envelope accommodating primary functions.” So says Tim Lee, Lee/Fitzgerald Architects partner. “This results in a significant reduction in the fully serviced floor area.”
Despite these ingenious savings by the architect, the project QS, Terry Broadfield of Denley King Partnership, finds it quite an expensive building. “That’s because it deals with art and design, so its appearance was very important,” he says. “For instance, the exposed steel structure was
architect-designed, which added to the cost.” It also has a high enough spec to achieve a “very good” rating under the BRE’s Energy Assessment Method, BREEAM.
The construction cost for the 1284 m2 building was £1.8m, or £1442/m2 (at first quarter 2004 prices). This is substantially higher than the mean for business start-up/innovation units of £839/m2, taken from Building Cost Information Service’s database and rebased to the same date and area.
Another problem identified by Broadfield was that the lowest tender price was £270,000 above the elemental cost plan. Various savings were then made, such as reducing the area of external paving, leaving out a fountain, and omitting two layers of plywood panelling in the roof decking.
On the other hand, the completed building is used so intensively that the college’s estates director, Ann Dixon, now plans to close off the fresh air vents to the exhibition space below the fabric roof so that it can be heated more effectively. This will require the installation of a mechanical smoke extract system in a fire emergency.
Enterprise Pavilion: key points
- Lively building in timber cladding, exposed steel structure and fabric roof brightens up an otherwise dull campus
- Low-cost central atrium provides visual and social stimulation for small start-up companies
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