Stage 1 building design concepts revealed to the MalDent team – great excitement!

At the third meeting between the design team members and the MalDent team, held recently on Zoom, Paul East of John McAslan + Partners, together with his colleagues, presented the work they have been undertaking to complete Stage 1 of the design process for the new Dental School / Student Hub Building on the Blantyre campus of the University of Malawi. It was an exceptionally exciting and eye-opening two hours. Little did we know what was to follow after the opening slide of the presentation.

Paul initially reminded us of the phasing of the project and associated timeline. The team is working to a very tight schedule but at present it is all on track, which is a fantastic achievement:

The time-line

For the the first part of the presentation, Sophie Burgess provided a description of the site analysis that had been undertaken. Of the three possible locations that had been previously identified, Site B was chosen as the one that best satisfied the design brief.

Consideration of the site selection – Site B proved the winner

This choice was superimposed on a photograph of the campus, which illustrates its position on the perimeter of the existing buildings but bordering open space for potential future developments.

Site B in the context of existing campus buildings

The site was also considered from the perspective of photographs taken from different locations. These pictures also serve to illustrate the stunning backdrop for the new building.

Photo survey of the site from different vantage points

We were next given information on the topographic analysis that has been completed. There is a significant slope to the site, which it later transpired would be very relevant to the design process.

Analysis of the topography of Site B

Paul and Sophie next handed over to Sam Haston from Buro Happold, to discuss the climatic analysis that has been completed. It was fascinating to hear how impactful the climate data are in relation to the design process.

Weather data were available from Chileka International Airport

Every aspect of the climate, including temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and cloud cover were considered at each time of the year.

Parameters of the local climatic conditions throughout the year

Sam explained how combined use of shading and air-flow could have massive impacts on levels of comfort for those using buildings and how relevant consideration of these factors were critical to the design process.

The importance of shade and airflow for human comfort

To explain this in more detail, Sam gave a description of what are known as passive design principles

He showed a diagram illustrating how overhangs can be used to provide shade to the North and South elevations, but that vertical structures are more efficient on the East and West:

There are also rules governing building designs that will increase the efficiency of cross ventilation:

The priority for this building is to use passive design principles as much as possible to reduce the amount of mechanical ventilation required. This improves natural efficiency, reduces power usage and enhances the green credentials of the building.

Prioritise natural over mechanical ventilation

In addition to natural ventilation, there are many other design features that can improve the overall efficiency of buildings and which are environmentally friendly. These are all being considered during the design process:

The final slide in this section summed up the opportunities provided by Site B and why it had been chosen over Sites A and C.

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The multiple opportunities provided by Site B

Paul then moved on to the brief, to explain the progress of the team through Stage 1.

One of the first considerations had been to consider how the functional elements should be organized within the structure, to ensure appropriate adjacencies.

Consideration of adjacencies

Having considered the adjacencies, the next step was to consider how the various elements should be organised. On their next slide, we were treated to the first set of architect’s hand drawings which then morphed into three possible organisational options – ‘organic’, ‘slices’ and ‘spine’.

Organisation of the functional components of the building

Paul then proceeded to take us through a series of slides which illustrated how each of these three organizational options could begin to translate into a concept for the building. The design team had come to the conclusion that Option 3 – Spine, worked best.

The building would extend over three floors and this is where the topography of the site became relevant to the design.

The distribution of facilities across the three floors of the ‘spine’ design

We were then treated to a series of pen and wash sketches, through which the design was developed and emerged. I have always loved this type of illustration, and to see the design concept appearing out of the page was incredibly exciting.

Early development of the spine design

In this sketch, the use of the lie of the land is becoming clear.

Further refinement of the initial sketches

Another sketch provided an illustration of how the entrances to the building and surrounding landscaping could be envisaged.

Landscaping and surroundings

Suggested floor plans were illustrated for each level of the building

An example of one of the floor plans

The design then emerged through a series of sketches …

… followed by computer simulations based upon those sketches:

Paul explained that some of the components of the design had stemmed from considering features of other buildings that had similar requirements in the brief, so-called precedents:

At the end of the two hour presentation, there was general discussion about progress and the vision for the building design that had been shared with the MalDent team. In summary, we were both astonished at the amount that had been achieved and delighted with what was being proposed.

It was agreed that Dr Mipando would share the recording of the presentation with other key stakeholders in Malawi, to garner their views and feedback. Paul agreed to send the printed Stage 1 report to all present.

Reflecting on the workshop held in Blantyre in September 2019, led by Professor Chris Platt, it is now extremely exciting to see the design appearing, based upon principles that flowed from those stakeholder discussions held a year ago. The benefits to the entire campus will be legion, quite apart from providing a teaching focus for the new BDS programme. Thanks to John McAslan + Partners, together with the design team they have established, we are off to a flying start!

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