London-based studio Nex — has transformed an unloved 1960’s office building into a vibrant, high-tech Photography Centre for the first phase of Brighton University’s new campus upgrade.
The retrofit of the 3400m2 building is a response to the Faculty of Art & Design’s need to accommodate increased student numbers to the internationally recognised school in recent years. As well as refurbishments of the existing estate, the campus will comprise new spaces for increased public access. Following an appointment to undertake a feasibility masterplan, Nex — has reworked three floors of an existing building, located on 154 Edward Street in central Brighton. The practice converted a former 600m2 basement car park into a specialist photography production lab. Daylight was brought into the basement through a new double height-space, by removing part of the ground floor, to allow ground floor windows to illuminate the area. These newly opened up spaces will be used for digital and print photo review, with bold yellow flooring denoting the production and layout spaces when seen from the ground floor above.
The first two upper floors of the building have also undergone an extensive retrofit. The new design is characterised by ribbon-like walls that transition from a public exhibition and hub space on the ground floor to enclosed teaching and meeting rooms on the upper floor. The material palatte combines the raw qualities and durability of the original concrete building with new high-tech optics that reference the Centre’s services to photography and film.
The dedicated exhibition space will act as shared gallery for numerous cultural partners such as Photoworks Brighton and the South-Eastern Screen Archive. A hanging dado rail divides the ribboned walls into a white lower and darker upper sections to establish a clean visual datum for the exhibition of artwork. The concrete structural frame is exposed and set against an infilled ceiling of dark woodwool slabs, whilst matte white walls are reflected in a dark polished resin floor, highlighting the artwork and people within the space.
Glass in the long ribbon windows is highlighted by limiting the number of walls that meet the façade. whilst the building’s exterior pairs precast concrete panels, sensitively repaired and painted black mineral, with a series of yellow metal fins that point to the new Centre’s main entrance.
Alan Dempsey, Founding Director of Nex —, says: ‘Retrofitting an existing commercial building to accommodate a specialist photo and film centre was an exceptionally challenging brief. Securing planning permission to convert the former basement car park unlocked the opportunity to service the building, create additional space, and introduce daylight through new voids. Perhaps the most important achievement here is making the ground floor of the building a shared space that will connect the university, local cultural partners, and the public around a new cultural space that shows the production of the students alongside established artists.’