If you were to describe somewhere similar it's probably the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art in New York where you are right in the heart of the city, and can hear the hum of the city behind, but it’s still a serene space.
Stafford Critchlow, Director, Wilkinson Eyre
In ArtsTwo, award-winning architects practice Wilkinson Eyre has designed an environmentally-responsive building with a number of innovative features.
The 4,000-square metre edifice houses 38 academic offices, seven teaching spaces, including two dedicated to postgraduate study; a senior common room; a large, open plan office for the Leo Baeck Institute and another for the School of History administration. ArtsTwo also has one of the largest lecture theatres at Queen Mary, plus a purpose built film and drama studio. "Wilkinson Eyre has managed to create a building that is architecturally distinguished, and a very pleasant place to be. It's quiet and light and people like working here," says Professor Julian Jackson, Head of History.
A glazed corridor on the public side of ArtsTwo acoustically shields academic offices from the hustle and bustle of Mile End Road below, while allowing natural ventilation and increased energy efficiency. Professor Ogden describes the upper-floor corridor as "a stunning piece of architecture; a combination of good aesthetics and sound practical design". The double-height of this ingenious 'buffer zone' corridor acts as a solar chimney, drawing up heat to the top of the building and out. In addition, the exposed concrete of the building interior provides thermal mass to regulate the temperature, day and night.
Another innovation is the rows of aerodynamic-shaped, aluminium fins, fitted to the exterior of the glazed corridor. The fins act like a sun screen, protecting the offices from solar glare and a build-up of heat.
ArtsTwo is also built on anti-vibration pads to reduce the rumble of the London Underground that runs beneath. This feature is particularly beneficial to users of the building's 300-seat lecture auditorium. The lecture theatre is an acoustically-sealed 'egg', a curved interior form, clad in beech slats. It's a design detail repeated in the ribbon of curved beech wrapped around the main staircase. "The wood elements feel very handcrafted, which we were keen to achieve as a sculptural contrast to the more rigid façades of the rest of the building," explains Stafford Critchlow, Director, Wilkinson Eyre.
The new film and drama studio, which seats 60 people, projects as a first-floor glazed box over the Mile End Road. This state-of-the-art space is acoustically-isolated, can be blacked out, and is equipped with high-specification lighting. As Jen Harvie, Acting Head of Drama explains: "We moved our Masters programme from the Boiler Room at the back of the People's Palace. It was a quirky and fun space, but it was full of pipes and all performances had to work around the peculiarities of the room. The new studio is extremely flexible and adaptable for all kinds of performance."
ArtsTwo is not to be seen as an individual building icon but very much as stitching it to the rest of the campus, solving what was a very tricky little corner in the campus.
Stafford Critchlow, Director, Wilkinson Eyre
The architectural project also adds a major art commission to the urban landscape of Mile End. Wilkinson Eyre collaborated with Peckham-based artist Jacqueline Poncelet to design the distinctive, blue, glass shell which clads the exterior of the drama studio. For ArtsTwo, Poncelet used a digital printing technique, Okalux, directly on the glass tiles, with a stacked books motif. This symbol of learning makes a make a visual statement on the public-facing side of the building.
"The books are repeated in tones of blue, multiplied to create patterns, forming images half reminiscent of geological structures, half of architectural structures. They symbolise the gathering, storing, sharing and growing of knowledge; a common thread that runs through all the diverse subjects of the humanities." Jacqueline Poncelet, Peckham-based artist.
At the main entrance of ArtsTwo, adjacent to the cemetery, is a contemporary public space for quiet contemplation and reading. The site was designed by Coe Design, which specialises in landscapes in historical settings. Coe Design also created the building's roof terrace - an inner courtyard overlooked by the academic offices. "The contrasting textures of materials and plants provide rich detail, a variety of viewpoints and a garden full of interest for the people who use the building," says Jenny Coe, Coe Design. "The native plant species and loose stones are also sustainable and ecological design features to attract and support wildlife."