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University of Edinburgh School of Informatics, Potterrow

Being the home for Informatics, Philosophy, Psychology and Language Science at the University, the main client requirement for the new development was, unsurprisingly, for “a building for interaction”. This requirement catapulted the acoustic performance to the heart of the design.

The building had to provide a diverse range of acoustic environments from the open plan “mini-forums” located around the central, six-storey “main forum” atrium, designed to encourage communication and collaboration between researchers, to the highly isolated anechoic studio and perception labs used by the language scientists to record and study speech stimulus and carry out psychoacoustic and computer-human interaction experiments.

The facilities house 500 researchers with interests in robotics, virtual reality, artificial learning, intelligent systems, computational linguistics and bioinformatics. As well as a mix of cellular and flexible project based office space for all these users, there are a wide range of formal and informal meeting and conference spaces located all over the building, including the “instrumented meeting room” with its high-tech 20-microphone/six-camera video-conferencing facility enabling the researchers to communicate freely and in high definition with their colleagues all over the world.

There are a large number of laboratories, studios and workshops serving the wide range of researchers based at the facility. These include the Robotics workshop, which had to be positioned and designed so the high noise levels it produces do not disturb the work of other researchers throughout the rest building and at the other end of the spectrum the vision and perception labs where test subjects sit in acoustically isolated environments under strict experimental conditions.

The building design and its acoustics were obviously somewhat experimental; however, its success in practice cannot be explained better than by the judges of the RIAS Best Buildings in Scotland Award, who said: “Internal communications and high quality break-out spaces create a lively and friendly environment. Amenities, including comfortable seating areas and terraces at various levels, create opportunities for interaction and quiet contemplation, a considerable remove from traditional educational provision.”

The best research is carried out through informal conversation and collaborative working. The design of Potterrow enables both these things to occur whether the research will follow is yet to be seen, in the words of one researcher working at the facility: “We are working together, we want to be multi-disciplinary, we want to change the world and this building will make it happen.”

Service provided: Acoustic consultant
Contract value: £42m
Delivery dates: 2003-2008
Awards: The Potterrow development was recently named Scottish Building Project of the Year 2009 by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Scotland (RICS Scotland). It was shortlisted for the RICS building of the year after it won a separate award for sustainability, also from RICS. In 2008 the development was awarded the RIAS (The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland) Andrew Doolan Best Buildings in Scotland Award. These awards are held annually and celebrate the best new building, redevelopments or conservation projects in Scotland.

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Institute of Acoustics