Bennetts Associates' award-winning Potterrow development has created an innovative learning environment for Edinburgh University, transforming the site previously used as a car park into a state of the art School of Informatics and School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences Sciences as well as the University Visitor Centre and an exhibition space.
Creating a communal, vibrant working environment that stimulated academic research was integral to Bennetts' design process. The 16,000m2 scheme, set within the university's major new masterplan for the George Square, responds to the latest developments in educational research, creating areas that aid formal and informal interaction, which has been found to significantly improve the quality of research. The floorplates have been laid out to ensure that usurers circulate around the building, engaging with a range of spaces and people.
The completed building has a considerable variety of areas, ranging from the largest, the Forum, capable of taking 500 persons at a graduation party right down to informal coffee points or even photocopier areas where two or three people can chat. The anecdotal feedback to date is exceptionally good with many staff commenting favorably on their new environment. These Evidence based design principles evident in the design is hoped to be formalised into a research project involving an architectural psychologist who will study the use of the spaces over a one or two year period.
Apart from providing innovative educational facilities the scheme includes street level shops, a cafe and a gallery. Each of these two primary volumes is planned round an atrium, facing each other across a shared courtyard, but their form allows them to overlap on the street edges and undulate in height from three floors to eight. The development consists of two phases. The first is academic accommodation for the Schools of Informatics and Philosophy, Psychology and Language Science was completed in 2008 which will be followed by the second phase, two interlocking atrium buildings supported by a public courtyard.
An important part of the brief was creating an educational facility that was not only interactive but also implemented an innovative sustainability strategy. The Potterrow Development was one of the first projects in Scotland to measure BREEAM through construction, allowing the project team to check that the excellent rating could be maintained. The final data gathering is nearly complete and the building is on target to retain the excellent rating. These green credentials have been achieved by using a Gas CHP system to provide heat and electricity. This is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by a further 30% over and above passive measures.