High School of Dundee Centre for Performing and Visual Arts
High School of Dundee
Euclid Crescent, Dundee, DD1 1HU
Internal Floor Area
A vertical playground for learning
The site for the new Centre for Performing and Visual Arts is the former General Post Office plus the dramatic new entrance extension, providing approx. 7500m2 of floor area across six different levels. This houses new accommodation for the creative and culinary arts (Art, Drama, Music and Home Economics departments) along with new dining and social facilities, plus the associated ancillary spaces. This ambitious development provides the High School with the opportunity to provide internal social spaces otherwise lacking across the campus, along with improved staff facilities.
At the heart of the design is the new performance hall, providing a facility for the wider community, and supporting an elevated dining facility. Lost interiors of the listed building are sympathetically recreated, and the external fabric of the listed building sensitively repaired and restored.
The new entrance to this facility faces the original High School building across Euclid Crescent and appropriately houses a central stair that playfully climbs up the various levels of the building and leading to the unexpected rooftop courtyard.
Responding to the city
The site sits on Euclid Street at an important junction in the city centre of Dundee; opposite the McManus Galleries it forms part of an island of civic buildings perpendicularly intersected by Reform street which terminates at either end by the main school building and the Caird Hall. All these civic buildings face inwardly to the city and use staircases to address the public realm. This led to the notion of our new building being fronted by a grand entrance stair which’s marks its significant role within the culture of the city.
Re-purposing the old Post Office
The school acquired the splendid French Renaissance former General Post Office in the centre of Dundee which will be fully restored for their new facility. This will be complimented with a contemporary extension to the North-East corner of the site to address the existing school building and form a new front door to the centre. Lime mortar repointing and stone repairs will be made to refresh the exterior of the historic building ensuring that it continues as a much-loved building within the city centre of Dundee.
Understanding the user
A detailed series of briefing consultations with the school was the first step in constructing a design framework for the project. By attending the school during term time, we were able to observe the way the school operated on a daily basis and gain an understanding of the successes as well as the challenges the school faced. This was supplemented by briefing workshops with pupils of all ages as well as teachers, support staff, and the school board to develop an ambition for the new centre for performing and visual arts.
A continuing theme raised as part of these briefing session was the requirement for a more homogenous learning environment. With the introduction of peer and mobile learning, it was clear that much of the education process now happens out with the classroom and the overwhelming voice from pupils and teachers was the need for the spaces between the traditional classrooms walls to become conducive for theoretical, practical and social learning.
Just like the interweaving of teachings spaces, the interior of the project is intrinsically designed as part of the overall user experience. The social learning stair is conceived as a warm timber lining in contrast to the hard and robust concrete outer shell with different volumes and geometry of space creating a variety of atmospheres. The performance hall in the heart of the building is formed as a timber slatted box with a dark and subdued interior designed to focus the attention on performance; whilst the refectory on the 1st floor is bright and fresh with light voids cut through the space to create an airy and energised space. Bench seating, wayfinding signage and built in storage will feature throughout the building and help create a continuity of detail amongst a mature and clean palette of materials.
Re-imagining the classroom
Developing further our idea of forming a new entrance and circulation space to create a civic front door to our building, we conceived the staircase as a vertical classroom, or a playground for learning, a place to gather rather than just transition. Drawing on ancient Greek references, the stair could be likened to the Greek ‘Agora’ – meaning meeting place – where the great minds of philosophers, politicians, scientists, and traders would meet to discuss ideas, teach pupils or trade goods. The stair is therefore no longer solely about access and circulation rather it is inherently woven into school life and projects creativity and academia outwardly to the city.
Most importantly the stair provides spaces for pupils to congregate out with the classroom and encourages continued learning. Spaces stemming off the main stair offer opportunities for different uses – perhaps as teaching spaces for small groups, private study spaces for senior pupils or as places for the display of school project work.
The form of the stair is influenced not only by the fine staircases within the turrets of the existing building, but also the geometric stairs of the nearby original McManus Galleries – picking up on our earlier mathematical investigations that inspired the form of the new stair and external public realm works at the McManus.
Extending the School into the city
The nature of the building programme makes this project not just an educational facility but also an arts and cultural hub for the city of Dundee. The school’s intent is to extend the building’s use to the community and offer art and performance spaces to the public and external organisations out with school hours. As a result, the specification and quality of performances spaces are designed to a professional standard.
Page\Park have developed detailed designs with theatre consultants Charcoal Blue and acoustic consultants Sandy Brown Associates to create a modern, state of the art 300 seat performance hall, which along with various technical ancillary spaces, provides a professional facility for pupils to gain valuable experience in both the performing and technical roles of theatre and music performance. The existing building has been pushed hard to function acoustically, with all music classrooms, drama studios and individual recital rooms being acoustically separated to modern BB93 acoustic standards, something only usually achieved in new build schools.
A small art gallery is formed on the 2nd floor which looks out onto the rooftop sculpture courtyard providing space for pupils to display work and exhibit to the public, continuing the important role of integrating the school with the city.