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MMU Screen School
This is the story of how we helped to design a 5 storey, cutting edge performing arts, digital media production and game design powerhouse.
The Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) required a digital stable to nurture Manchester’s emerging talent, providing more than a thousand students with next level learning and high quality, flexible production and meeting spaces.
In recent years the UK, and Greater Manchester in particular, has become home to a large and fast growing set of ‘screen-based’ industries characterised by strong connections between creative production methods and computation.
These include film, TV, post-production processes, animation and games development. The skills underpinning these industries are driving innovation in a wide range of emerging digital media forms, which in turn relate directly to the development of key growth areas such as online retail and distribution, smart cities and the internet of things.
The MMU Screen School is a response to and an investment in, this dynamic set of skills-needs, which cut across the creative and digital economy. Working with a broad range of businesses, the MMU Screen School will be a creative and digital skills powerhouse, supporting economic growth and innovation.
“create a vibrant city living room, bursting with new ideas and bustling with great minds”
“to design environments which effortlessly foster and nurture the flow of ideas”
Our mission was to work with the architect to bring the vision to life, to design a flexible creative hub located on a constrained city site with a tight budget.
The facility will train the next generation of talent – backed by luminaries like Rockstar Games and Danny Boyle.
As such, it will aim to become a renowned contemporary educational icon of this fast developing sector.
Challenging assumptions of
the building form
The site is made up of land owned by both MMU and Manchester City Council.
The new building will need to fit into a tight space within the existing campus and must create adequate space between buildings to ensure daylight is not compromised in either building.
Optimising sunlight for the building, and limiting shadow on the surrounding structures is a key requirement.
Mid Summer and Mid Winter Equinox paths
Creating the ‘digital skills powerhouse’
Inside, the design must allow for more functional versatility for students learning different disciplines. Across the 5 floors the brief demanded a loose fit design.
At ground level there would be a welcoming foyer for social interaction and presentation. The floors above requre multi-purpose spaces that allow for creation and production.
The risk was that a conventional approach would just create aesthetically pleasing, but dead spaces.
Design for acoustic performance spaces
When physical separation of spaces is not possible, and very high levels of sound insulation are required (e.g. between adjacent music rooms), it may be necessary to introduce a degree of structural isolation to reduce sound transmission. A way of achieving this is by using box-in-box construction, where the inner box is structurally isolated from the main building structure.
We considered this approach in the earliest stages of the project, but encouraged further studies to include consideration of flexible/moveable partitioning.
Key Engineering Moves
Guiding the client to
make decisions around the approach
It is very beneficial to have a vision-driven client with ambitions for their project. However, as engineers we are the ones that have to turn the theory into practice, or assist the client to understand where they need to adjust their expectations.
This was the case with the MMU Screen School. The client’s concept of having infinitely flexible spaces that change shape, size and function, comes without their basic understanding that this is usually a very expensive way of building a building.
Here we needed to explore what was practical and affordable.
We also had a wider view – how would this building relate to its neighbours and how would the experience be for the students attending?
Finding the optimal building shape
How do we arrive at the optimal solution when one factor impacts another? A move in one direction shifts something else. The 6 designs proposed by the architect each had merit but the client had no understanding in how to value one design over another. Based on our studies we proposed a seventh design . . .
The SMART option
We deployed one of our specially adapted SMART tools to run building shape simulations that were optimised according to the MMU’s exact criteria. This resulted in a set of options that arrived at the most efficient solution – balancing daylight, shadow, floor spaces and building capacity.
Having been faced with such choice the client was confused and was much relieved to be able to elect what is clearly the best option on measured parameters.
We undertook overshadow, sunlight hours and sky view analysis to inform the building massing and height. The proposed option results in the least reduction of sky view and sunlight hours for the adjacent buildings. The sunpath plots around the proposed new development showing sunlight availability will be most affected on the west-facing façade of the Benzie building, which is likely to lose a significant portion of incident sunlight throughout most of the year during the midday sunset period.
The east-facing Student Union’s façade will be affected to a lesser degree, over-shading will predominantly occur in the early mornings. Surrounding domestic blocks will be over-shaded at certain times of the day depending on their location, particularly in winter when the sun is at low altitudes. Sunlight incidence to existing domestic blocks during summer months is unlikely to be significantly affected unless a taller building shape is proposed.
MMU Screen School is in its early stages of proposal and discussion.
Our engineers have already demonstrated to the client, and subsequently won their trust, that our experience and holistic approach to the project will not simply deliver against the brief requirements and constraints, but also that a wider and longer view is needed.
Thinking about the physical building, and getting the best from it, is what we do every day – solving complex problems with intelligent and creative thinking and employing leading edge technologies.
Enabling the client to recognise that the facility must live and breathe as part of the wider campus – being connected, is what our experience and bespoke research shows is what students really want. This will ultimately drive the success and reputation of the faculty – by having students pass on their excitement and energy for this contemporary learning environment.
As BuroHappold pioneers the concept of ‘forward integration’ in the built environment sector, we are becoming the lens to help our clients see further. And this is backed up by facts, not conventional wisdom, traditional methods or grand theories.