Years ago, Durham University decided to implement a 10-year plan to improve on-campus facilities for its student body. Tasking British firm Faulkner Browns with the ambitious project, one of the first buildings to come to fruition is the Lower Mountjoy Teaching and Learning Centre. The massive, three-level student center was built to be incredibly energy-efficient, so much so that the innovative design has already been BREEAM-certified for its sustainability profile.

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Monolithic building with pyramidal roofs

The 3,000-square-foot building is clad in handmade gray brick that contrasts with the abundance of greenery that surrounds the site. The design’s most striking feature, however, is the 12 rooftop modules that are all topped with asymmetric pyramidal peaks. Each of these roofs is arranged around a small or large skylight, which brighten the interior spaces with natural light.

Related: Ecosistema Urbano designs a digitally integrated eco-campus for the University of Malaga

university building interior with tall ceilings and ample seating

students walking up large wood staircase

The interior spaces were strategically positioned to foster a strong sense of community. In the past, learning centers were often arranged into multiple private spaces for individual or small group study. While the Lower Mountjoy Teaching and Learning Centre certainly has ample space for quiet study, the main floors are filled according to a specific teaching and learning “space model”, which seeks to create an open and welcoming area for the entire student body, regardless of the students’ specific areas of study.

student center room with lounge seating

long tables with black office chairs

Students and visitors enter through a massive central courtyard, which forms the social hub of the building. Further into the first floor, there are various seminar spaces and project rooms as well as two 250- and 500-seat lecture halls. There is also a spacious cafe for taking a break from the tough studying grind.

student sitting in booth

student center with desks lined up against a wall

Leading to the upper floors, a wide staircase adds a dramatic feel to the learning center. On the vaulted top floor, there is an expansive, flexible space that can be used for quiet, contemplative study or as a group lounge-like setting for collaborative learning projects.

massive student center with stadium seating

large monolithic building surrounded by trees

In addition to the ample natural light that filters through the many skylights, the building features full-height windows that provide views of the landscape. The learning center has a tight thermal envelope and was installed with several energy-efficient features, which has led to the project to earn a distinguished BREEAM Excellent certification.

+ Faulkner Browns

Photography by Jack Hobhouse, David Cadzow and Kristen McCluskie via Faulkner Browns