Architect: IBI Group /// Completion (Extension): 2011
By Tom Winter…
Gazing upwards in delight at the blue ribbons of neon that wrap the new rotunda extension of Croydon College in South London and flood the college green in a welcoming blue haze I wondered if I was still observing the same space that was widely known as a worthy skating venue. Located within one of London’s largest boroughs and transport hubs it is hardly surprising that this particular educational institution has provided a home for creativity and innovation for the fearless youth of South London for many years. One only has to look back to the late sixties when the likes of Malcolm McLaren and Jamie Reid were attending Croydon College as art students, and who would later play essential roles in defining the infamous punk-rock image of the 1970’s, to understand the powerful visions that have and can still be produced by such a place. As expected today, during a normal working week whilst the remainder of Croydon continues a normal existence you will find students performing art, playing music and generally relaxing under the gaze of the new rotunda style extension, provoking a unique community.
For a long time the physical presence of the college has been that of a gentle giant nestled between the busy George Street and Fairfield Halls, and with the new extension this romantic presence has been wonderfully sustained. Entering the college from the rotunda entrance you are greeted by the colourful walkways flying above you providing access to the library from the existing building, whilst at the same time creating a playful atmosphere below with the sunlight painting the internal surfaces with a palette of blues and reds. Yet juxtaposed to this is the deliberate transparency created by the internal glazed screens, which has been utilised at all levels of the rotunda allowing an honest relationship between students, staff and services to exist within the college. Whether or not deliberate or accidental, in addition to the hierarchical honesty created by the physical layout there runs parallel to this a material one too. Observed initially through the industrial style light fittings that suitably mimic the rotunda’s form with their oval shape and glass materiality one will eventually be greeted by the muscular workings of the two pneumatic lifts. Secured in a glazed housing all the pulleys, rivets and pneumatic arms of the lifts can be seen working hard to help carry the students and staff to the heights and books of the forth floor, and it is this exhibition of machine and material honesty that arguably provides an inspirational canvas for the surrounding library and contact spaces.
The primary concern with this particular extension of the college however was always going to be how to integrate the creased feel and uniform layout of the existing building with a new contemporary design that essentially was plugging an architectural void. In spite of this challenge the subtlety and sympathetic design of the rotunda has achieved this. By using simple techniques such as re-cladding the existing columns with coloured tiles to match the walkways and allowing the new floor and ceiling finishes to drape into the existing college, one would only realise they were in an old section of the college when they felt the weathered surface of the timber handrails of the old stairs gliding under their fingertips.
In addition to the new extension creating a harmonious relationship internally there is a priceless connection to the rotunda’s external environment too. The long glass curtain walling that flows across each floor of the library both allows a generous amount of light into the spaces whilst offering a view over the often bustling college square. Like an all seeing eye the seating in the new library of the rotunda lines this external wall and offer students a priceless view over the town they certainly hope to inspire and redefine. The rounded form and blue neon of the rotunda may attract the majority of the extensions attention, yet nonetheless underneath this initial appearance lies a design honesty and association with the old building that generates a stimulative learning environment, which one can be sure many other educational institutions in the UK could learn a great deal from.
Tom Winter is an open minded and adventurous Part 2 Architectural Assistant and aspiring architectural writer and explorer from South London, UK.
All photos were taken by Tom Winter.