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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

The New Generation Youth and Community Centre in Wells Park, Lewisham, London by RCKa

October 29th, 2013 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: RCKa

RCKa played a key role in the genesis of the project, having identified the full extent of local authority site ownership and the opportunity to replace a structurally unsound facility with one wholly aligned with emerging youth provision policy.

The practice also identified the capital funding stream (having worked on the part-funded OPEN youth venue in Norwich), and were instrumental in the preparation of a funding bid to the government’s MyPlace scheme, which was subsequently selected from over 240 competing bids.

Image Courtesy © Ioana Marinescu and Jakob Spriestersbach

  • ArchitectsRCKa
  • Project: The New Generation Youth and Community Centre
  • Location: Wells Park, Lewisham, London
  • Photography: Ioana Marinescu and Jakob Spriestersbach
  • Software used: SketchUp and Bentley Microstation

As well as the young people and local community, RCKa worked with a number of service providers in the Borough to develop a brief for the new building. These included Lewisham College, CABE, Centrepoint Homeless Charity, local youth theatres, church groups, the Wells Park Improvement Group, Lewisham PCT, the Football Association and Millwall Football Club Community Project.

The centre was designed in close collaboration with young people and the local community and was conceived as an open and unpretentious piece of architecture for these groups to inhabit and make their own.

A consistent structural grid runs throughout the building, defining rooms and wall openings, whilst measuring and ordering large open plan areas.

Undefined and flexible spaces are provided to encourage young people to appropriate them in creative and innovative ways, such as the entrance area which can be read as an expansive mid-landing positively connecting all building levels. A triple-height wintergarden on the east side of the building is crossed with highlevel balconies that provide important break-out space for all key uses. It acts as a thermal and physical buffer to the external multi-use games area, with surfaces left unfinished to encourage a wider range of uses than possible within the main building, whilst providing as much space as possible within the tight budget.

The main interior presents a warm palette of welcoming materials, with complimentary painted joinery and signage designs that eschew bright day-glo in lieu of a more sophisticated background colour scheme – befitting of today’s styleconscious and discerning young people.

The building’s interior is expansive and yet feels comfortable regardless of the number of inhabitants, making it suitable for use by small groups, many multiple users or huge community gatherings.

Dramatic open spaces, top-lit by large ETFE rooflights, visually connect all levels of the building with viewing points and stage-like staircases that provide a literal and metaphorical theatre for life to unfold.

Technical / Materials
Internally, exposed structural timber panels and frame have a subtle white wash and are set against a robust linoleum floor in a warm-grey chequerboard pattern and, in key spaces, a textured rustic oak. The timber-panelled carcass is punctured through walls and ceiling with large dramatic openings through which light pours. These also frame long views through and out of the building, locating the user within the building and wider landscape.
Externally, where out of reach from non-users, the building is clad in a lightweight, translucent polycarbonate rainscreen with a gently undulating profile. The polycarbonate provides glimpses of foil-faced insulation behind and responds in an extraordinary way to changes in external light conditions – by turn, dazzling or ethereal.
At street level where the building required a more robust finish, ultra-high performance pre-cast concrete panels cast from moulds of the profiled polycarbonate above, are hung from the building. This combination of light refractive and reflective panels form elegant curtain-like elevations that are framed with bright crisp aluminium surrounds. The ductal® concrete, used for the first time at this scale in the UK, is both extremely durable and beautiful – the finest of facets and impressions being evident on its porcelain-like surface.

Two years before the 2011 riots that affected several areas within the borough, Lewisham had recognised and started to address the acute need for services, activities and support for its disconnected and disenfranchised youth population. In September of 2009 the council appointed RCKa to design an innovative new youth venue, named The New Generation youth and community centre (TNG) by local young people following a competition.
The project formally opened in June 2013 at the end of a lengthy collaborative journey, and is proving to be a beacon of opportunity and hope, demonstrating Lewisham Council’s commitment to the future of its young people. RCKa and Lewisham sought to empower local young people from the outset, increasing their influence over the design and the delivery of services within the centre through an ongoing series of design workshops and feedback sessions. As a result, over 800 young people across the borough were consulted through schools, colleges and youth groups. This led to the formation of a young persons
steering group who visited exemplar buildings with RCKa across the UK, attended urban design sessions at the Stephen awrence Centre, presented the scheme to the Mayor and continue to influence the governance and management of the centre. Their commitment was also recently recognised by a make a difference award.
The completed building is testament to the possibilities and opportunities inherent in a collaborative and community-centric design approach. From inception, the design process has involved – and responded to – the needs of young people and the local community who will bring the building to life. This enabled RCKa to create a building that is popular and accessible but also
strikingly contemporary; with a bold simplicity that is rarely achieved in the UK. Since opening, the building has been an outstanding success with up to 200 young people attending almost every evening from across the borough to take part in both organised and informal activities.

RCKa is a London-based architectural practice producing consistently highquality pioneering and socially responsive architecture.

Recent recognition includes being, shortlisted for Young Architect of the Year Award 2013 (YAYA) due to be announced in December, finalist for the Best Public Building in 2013 in the New London Architecture awards, and the recipient of a Housing Design Award.

The practice has a strong portfolio of completed residential and community work, having recently completed a new photography gallery on Liverpool’s fourth grace site that the Financial Times reported as being, ‘ideally suited to the blend of
grandeur and detail of much contemporary photography’, and a £3.5m youth and community facility in London that Building Design Magazine praised as ‘a political and architectural triumph in equal measure’.
New and upcoming projects include a soon to be completed research centre in Hampshire for a ftse 250 company, an expansive 6,000m² mixed-use community development in Norwich granted planning permission in April 2013 and a number of large-scaled residential and urban realm regeneration projects ranging from five to thirty-five million pounds in construction value.

250 word Summary
Working closely with Lewisham Council, its partners and young people, RCKa developed proposals to satisfy a funding brief for a “world-class” building; from the use of innovative sustainable construction and high-quality design to extensive participation of young people, whose involvement continued through the detailed design, construction, management and governance of the building and services.

Central to this vision was the creation of a democratic and flexible building that responds to the changing demands of its occupants. A dramatic central space resolves complex site levels and forms a vibrant heart, providing an event landscape that engages and welcomes visitors, and is alive with activity and opportunity.

Exposed structural timber forms and elegant coffered ceiling and wall finish, selected for its natural warmth and ability to resist post-tender D&B valueengineering. Clean lines and dramatic open spaces aid security through natural surveillance, and result in a bright and vibrant inclusive internal atmosphere.

External cladding is unified by a gently undulating profile that casts vertical shadows across curtain-like elevations. Reflective foil-faced insulation beneath polycarbonate creates a sunlight-responsive shimmering skin, beneath which is hung delicately faceted porcelain-like ultra-high performance concrete panels: an attractive, tactile and robust base to the building.

RCKa identified the potential of the site for a significant facility being aware of Lewisham’s emerging youth policy and were instrumental in securing project funding.

The practice’s aim was to create a positive place in which young people find inspiration, where they feel safe and secure, and in which they want to spend time.

RCKa’s £3.5m new-build Youth & Community Venue in Lewisham, London, was officially opened to the public in June 2013. Funded by the last Labour government’s MyPlace scheme, the centre provides a range of vocational, leisure and support services for the young people of Lewisham.

This state-of-the-art building includes a climbing wall, training kitchen and café, multi-use games area, recording studios, health clinic, dance and performance spaces, teaching and conference rooms and an IT suite.

The project was shortlisted for the New London Architecture Awards “Best Public Building in 2013” and was the subject of a recent Building Study in Building Design Magazine, which praised the scheme as “a political and architectural triumph in equal measure”.

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