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Building Study: Fife College

18 Jul 2005

The new Fife College is indicative of changes in Higher Education. After years of under-investment colleges are attracting funding for new capital projects. The new buildings respond very directly to the government’s agendas of flexibility, accessibility and life-long learning.

Fife College had property spread across Kirkcaldy and decided that it was time to rationalise its estate and try to give its campus a distinct identity. In 2001 Gordon Hood of RMJM worked with the college to draw up a development plan for its stock that could be used to persuade the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council to support an initiative to upgrade the main campus at St Brycedale.
The scheme was granted planning approval in spring 2002. Construction demanded careful programming as the college needed to operate throughout the construction period. The construction, by Sir Robert McAlpine, was organised in two phases each kick started during the summer.
RMJM proposed the retention of the shell of the original B-Listed stone quadrangle building designed by William Williamson for Kirkcaldy High School in 1926-1928 and a rear extension to this building. They also proposed replacing the very tired 1960s tower on the corner of the site with a new block connected to the older building by an entrance tower and glazed link. At the heart of the old building, in place of an inaccessible court, the design team suggested a massive new atrium which would be over looked from a simple circulation space at each level.
The architects worked hard to produce a building that responds to its setting, a leafy suburban area of the town dominated by a large Edwardian church, and to provide the flexible accommodation demanded by the college. The entrance is pulled back from the street to provide some breathing space for the church and to form a public space where students can wait, meet and relax.
At present further and higher education colleges like Fife College are particularly sensitive to changing demands for vocational skills and as a result their managment teams are looking for accommodation that can be easily adapted to meet shifts in demand.These ‘new learning environments’ are not ‘teacher-dominated’, they are organised in groups and clusters in open-plan spaces and resources are organised to be as accesible as possible. At Fife the new building provides a mixture of new learning environments and traditional classrooms. The traditional classrooms have been organised around the three sides of the retained façades,while a block for ‘real learning’ or vocational training spaces, such as beauty salons, and a gym for training in health clubs complete the block. The new learning environments, or open plan spaces are located alongside a sports hall and workshops for woodwork and graphics. A “learning resource centre”, (what the old fogies used to call a library) and computer facilities within the new block sit close to the entrance tower and reception. Part of the brief for the new building was to help the college attract new students, by creating transparent, open spaces that might appeal to the casual visitor. The large central atrium has proved to be the most sucessful aspect of the project architecturally and socially. It is well used by students and the local community. The 25 metre square void is overlooked, in a variety of different ways, at every level generat ing a particularly dynamic volume.

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