Designed and built in tune with an extension to the Albert Sloman library, the new Silberrad Student Centre and a new lakeside Square has created an important new front door to the University of Essex's Colchester campus. As the largest new building on the campus since 1965 it now provides an integrated learning centre, student media centre, one-stop-shop for student's facility and a board room for the University Council. An extension to the Albert Sloman library, will provide the university with an integrated library, special collections and reading room.
The selection of exposed visual concrete for both buildings was both a reference to the dominant palette of the Colchester campus, and an opportunity to deliver a pair of highly crafted buildings in a material which reflects the academic intentions and aspirations of the University. The design incorporates exposed concrete inside and out, expressing the elemental structural forms of the buildings with a restrained palette of additional materials slotted within the primary frame. Large, smooth cast panels with carefully controlled joints and restraint ties sit alongside areas of rough textured boardmarking to distinguish the solid, grounded elements from the monumental columns and cantilevered slabs.
Working with visual concrete demands a great deal from both designers and contractors. With the final product revealed on striking the mould, it is unforgiving; as much a product of skilled joinery, chemistry and fortune as of architectural intent. Working with MPA The Concrete Centre and industry specialist David Bennett during design and into construction, the light coloured mix and casting techniques were developed by the contractor MJ Gallagher through a period of sampling and testing before finally emerging above ground. The finished buildings, with subtle variations across the monolithic material, bear witness to the complex effects of time and temperature on the casting process.