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Work begins on MDX Pavilion: a multipurpose new campus space

Five year project gives students an insight into architecture industry and opens way to extensive collaborations across departments

This week, the ground was broken for MDX Pavilion: a major new project to create a sustainably designed learning, event, community and wellbeing space on campus. MDX Architectural Technology BSc students have been leading on the design of the space in collaboration with industry professionals since September 2017: an opportunity for them to apply the construction theory and technical know-how they have learned to a real life project.

The principle behind the Pavilion is an evolving biophilic (intimately connected with nature) design which can be modified by future cohorts of Architectural Technology students. At the project's core is sustainability, innovation, collaboration and practice-based learning. Temporary planning permission for five years has been granted by Barnet Council for a site at the heart of the campus, by the main public path that runs from the Burroughs to Grove Park alongside Portakabins 6 and 7.

The initial idea for a small construction project to be built on campus came from Senior Lecturer in Construction Architecture & BIM Tong Yang. In spring 2017, Tong teamed up with Homeira Shayesteh, who had just joined Middlesex from the Bartlett as a Senior Lecturer in the same fields, to develop the plan further. Originally a tree house, the project evolved into a Pavilion. Tong and Homeira set the vision, ensuring it sat within the Architectural Technology modules each of them lead, with assessments based on the project deliverables from design to planning, preparing a business case and construction detailing - and made the whole project fit within the University’s five year strategy.

Once built, the Pavilion will act as a flagship for collaboration between departments and between academics and students, with learning through doing opportunities extended to other disciplines through the use of the space. For instance, marketing students could work on a project thinking about potential uses of the space, and publicising it to target users and audiences. A group of BA Photography students is due to start documenting the construction next week. Currently, there are two competitions running open to all MDX students to design the pattern for the ceiling panels and signage for the pavilion. Students can team up with staff to enter the competitions before March 18th and see their designs realised on campus.

Possible uses include as a space for welcome events, speed meets, exhibitions, student societies and outdoor films; a learning space close to nature, provoking discussion on renewables and innovative materials due to its sustainable design; a venue for yoga and tai-chi classes; a quiet place for contemplation; and a space for community activities, such as STEM outreach events with local schools.

Rendered image of the completed Pavilion by third year BSc Architectural Technology student Viorel Mihailuc

The Pavilion is built on screw pile foundation and consists of an octagonal glue laminated timber (glulam) structure and a monopitched timber roof with a green roof system. The ceiling is marine plywood with panels of mycelium (fungal thread) and ORB (organic waste matter). Current second year students had the task of detailing different elements of either the superstructure or the substructure, and chose materials with a view to cost, durability, sustainability and aesthetics. MDX has secured sponsorship from Bauder Green Roof Systems and from Biohm for the ceiling panels underneath the roof, and is currently reaching out for further sponsorship opportunities.

"I had to find a sustainable material for the fascia, which is a band covering the edge of the roof" says Desislava Veleva. "I created an evaluation matrix with different materials, marked on criteria from 1-5.

"I saw what it is to work on a real-life project, the discussions between the members of the design team, how even though a decision regarding the design is made, some circumstances might influence it and it needs to be changed. Also, as the assignments were group work, I learned how to collaborate with the others and how to solve problems within our group".

In the substructure group, Paulina Arazna had responsibility for choosing components for the finishing of the floor. "I saw what work looks like in such a serious project but I also learned how important care is for details and accuracy in doing this (even half a millimetre is of great importance)", she says. German Didenko worked on the structure under the ground. He reports: "I learned a lot about teamwork and planning, how to make changes if necessary to bring down the cost, and got insight to the industry". The students are now making weekly site visits to follow the construction process as part of their assessment.

Students now in their third year did the initial work on the project in 2017-18, including getting the go ahead from the University and taking it through the planning approval process.

"We had to put a business plan together, because we had to convince the Estate Management office it was a good investment and a good project" remembers Viorel Mihailuc.

"Then it was a green light for us to carry on" says Vidmantas Benaitis. "Students are getting involved and the learning experience is cool for us, so they were supportive from that point on".

After initially putting forward a group design, they worked on individual variations, out of which Romuald Beyeck Rifoe's design, based on an adaptable modular concept, was chosen. Working with the architects on finalising the design was a salutary experience, Rifoe says. "It teaches you how to pursue what you want to do. But you have to do whatever they advise you to sometimes".

"Seeing the Pavilion starting on site is an exciting achievement: we have come so far," says Homeira, who is currently leading on the project. "The Pavilion provides a great opportunity for all to use it as an object/platform/space for learning. It is the result of collaboration and support of many within MDX and beyond including different architectural and other industry professionals - to name a few, 4Green Architecture, Zandi Architects and BPR who helped us with tutoring students at various stages.

"[Head of Department] Mehmet Karamanoglu’s leadership and James Kennedy’s mentorship were crucial. In particular our close collaboration with the University’s Estates Office was what made it all possible. Zuzana Botkova and her team gave us enormous support, continuous feedback and provided the opportunity for students to present the case to the University’s Executive Board. Great teamwork, greater achievement!"

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