‘Velocity’s extremely light touch is sensitive to the courtyard as a social space’
Faced with the challenge of defining a set of criteria against which to judge an educational ‘type’, Studio Velocity’s learning centre at Aichi Sangyo University likely provided the judges with little in the way of clarity. Funny, considering the project itself has clarity in spades.
Aichi Sangyo only became a chartered university in 1992, and the sparsely populated city in which it sits – Okazaki, on the coastal plains of Aichi prefecture and home to Studio Velocity’s office – remains 60 per cent woodland. The campus itself sits between two roads that stretch south-east out of the city, eventually reaching Toyokawa. Here the city begins to bleed into the woodland that surrounds it, save for the southern edge that meets with the Pacific.
Studio Velocity is no stranger to the limelight of the AR Awards. Forest House (40 minutes away in Toyokawa) was awarded a commendation in AR House 2013, and A House Open to the City received an honourable mention in AR House 2014, both demonstrating a reinvigoration of the Japanese suburban house. Despite their tight plots, Velocity’s houses render small spaces vast, be it through cunning spatial solutions or by inviting in their surroundings. Like this year’s winners, Hayhurst and Co, much of Velocity’s previous experience is with housing types, making their treatment of a study centre – a home away from home for the hardworking student – all the more interesting. Here, however, condition is not one of too little space – quite the opposite.
This university building – pavilion? sculpture? – is most interesting for what it lacks, namely large sections of roof, a rigid demarcation of boundaries and any sense of institutional identity. While I wouldn’t usually advocate judging a building from a Google Earth satellite image, this project’s clean-cut geometricism against its grey neighbours is absolutely captured from above, austere almost to the point of uncanny, as though a photographic mount has been lowered onto the site. The frame metaphor is apt, and one Studio Velocity continually returns to throughout its projects.
The facilities to be housed within the project – a study lab, IT centre, presentation space, lounge and bus shelter – could have easily been packed into a shed that occupied nowhere near as much of the 3,500 square metre courtyard, but Studio Velocity had the good fortune of being able to occupy the entire space, resulting in a building of enviably low density when compared with likely any other university space in the world. The sloping site is crossed via a central, covered path, off which branches each of the various glazed spaces, ensuring each is surrounded by – and opens out to – green space.
Raised on steel columns, the roof covers the perimeter, the study spaces and the bus shelter, leaving open spaces of varying dimensions in between. Some are suited to quiet study, others to perhaps an impromptu game of football. Sadly, we are rarely given the luxury of such space, but Velocity’s project is a stark reminder of how many of us often conflate studying with being cooped up in internal – often small – spaces. Particularly for a university project, Velocity’s extremely light touch is wonderfully effective, and sensitive to the necessity of the courtyard as a social space.
Aichi Sangyo University Educational Centre
Architects: Studio Velocity