Silberrad Student Centre, University of Essex

Patel Taylor, Colchester, 2015


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The Neobrutalist library extension 

Timothy Soar     Download Original

  • The Neobrutalist library extension    
  • The stratified student centre    
  • The first-floor deck extends in a deep cantilever over the approach to the student centre    
  • The student centre entrance plaza    
  • View of the student plaza    
  • The extension    
  • The first-floor deck extends in a deep cantilever over the approach to the student centre    
  • Staircase from ground to second floor    
  • Student breakout spaces    
  • Student breakout spaces    
  • The terraced library extension    
  • Reception and upper levels seen from the first-floor landing    
  • Ground floor plan    
  • First floor plan    
  • Albery Sloman Library and Extension section BB    
  • Library extension section DD    
  • Student Centre section AA    
  • Student Centre section S11 DD    
  • Axonometric    
  • Axonometric    
  • Landscaping plan with scale bar    
  • Material model of development plan from the Essex University Archive    
  • Student Centre main stair details    

At this university campus, comprising a mixture of Brutalist and Modernist buildings, the brief for the extension to the existing library block required a new building that would function as a student centre with learning, media and support services.

One important result of the design is a well-balanced axial relationship between the extended library and the student centre. The three-level student centre features massive concrete floor/ceiling slabs, which cantilever outwards from the second and third floors to create graphic sightlines down the long east and west elevations.

The entry-point at the southern end of the student centre is oversailed by a double-height 15m cantilever supported by an asymmetric arrangement of columns. From this canopied piazza, the material contrasts are clear: the edges of the projecting slabs are inscribed with mid-line indents that immediately signal the care taken with the concrete surfaces; the slabs pass back into the building through a glazed facade with rough-finished Ancaster limestone stone sections.

Inside the reception area, there are bold comings together of in-situ cast concrete walls, the paler mix of the ceiling slabs, and a sculptural staircase in black bronze, which rises up through a three-level atrium lit by a glazed light-slot in the roof.


  • Begun: 2011
  • Completed: Jul 2015
  • Sector: Education
  • Total cost: £17.3M
  • Procurement: Design & Build
  • Address: University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom

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