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Page\Park Architects

Since receiving full planning permission for our proposals for our centre of excellence, the MAC in 2016, the project has progressed through detailed design stages. Page\Park Architects and the wider design team have continued discussions with pupils and teachers in each department to fine tune the nuts and bolts of the design.

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Things like internal material choices, electrical fittings and integrated furniture are all considered at this stage. Natural and sustainable materials have been chosen for their clean and simple aesthetic whilst being robust and timeless. Birch plywood lines the new helical stair to create a bright, warm and comforting space, whilst being strong to cope with the daily movement of pupils. Sustainably sourced rubber floors run through the main circulation spaces, providing acoustic absorption and resilience to wear and tear. Feature spaces such as the auditorium, dance studio, and music recital hall are finished with a beautiful oak floor. 

"Study and learning are woven into the design of the building, the new helical stair provides breakout spaces for social learning, private study or rehearsal with different lighting setting the tone of these spaces." 

Neil Boyd Page\Park Architects

A particular challenge has been updating the existing 1900's building to a standard that can technically perform for the 21st century. Page\Park have developed detailed designs with theatre consultants Charcoal Blue and acoustic consultants Sandy Brown Associates to create a modern, state-of-the-art 300+ seat performance hall, which along with various technical ancillary spaces, provides a professional facility for theatre and musical performances.

It is very important that the new centre was made fully accessible, so a new passenger lift has been included to provide access to all floors and accessible toilet provisions spread throughout the building. Heat recovery will be used to assist the heating of the building and underfloor heating is integrated into the main teaching spaces to create the best environmental conditions for pupils to learn. Lime mortar repointing and stone repairs will be made to refresh the exterior of the splendid French Renaissance former General Post Office, ensuring that it continues as a much loved building within the city centre of Dundee. 

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Lead Architect Nicola Walls, Head of Arts & Culture at Page\Park, answers some of our questions about the project.

What is so special about this project and what attracted you to it?

Firstly, we always like our projects to be built on the experience of past projects, and this one ticked a lot of boxes for us in that it is breathing new life into an old building, which we love doing. We have a lot of experience in the independent schools sector, as well as with art venues; our past projects include refurbishing the McManus Gallery.

What we have particularly enjoyed is working with the school in terms of taking the school's vision and aspiration, and developing that through our workshops and briefings. This has been very pleasurable for us, and the fact that the school has actually involved the pupils, from the youngest through to the eldest, has been great. It is just a fantastic vision, to create a wonderful arts facility that will rival anything in the UK.

Presumably it's also exciting for you to work on something that is going to so obviously benefit Dundee as a whole, as a city?

Absolutely, and to be working in Dundee at this time as well, when there is such dynamism about cultural activity. There's a certain atmosphere generated by the V&A - its ripple effect is tangible. You can feel in the air that there's a buzz.

"Not everyone's going to be an actor on stage, but the confidence that it gives you is invaluable in whatever you do. My main message is that the arts are vital to creativity, as well as to the Scottish culture and economy."

Nicola Walls, Page\Park Architects

What are the main challenges of this project?

Funding is always a challenge, a headline challenge for most projects. The logistics also - thinking about the type of city centre site and the fact that we're working close to an operating school. Those are probably the two main challenges.

What would you say were the major themes of the building's interior as you're designing it?

I often talk about certain internal spaces as a sort of social glue. If you make the circulation generous and give people the opportunity to sit and pause, you can create great spaces for small study groups, or for reflection. We see that as being very important in promoting the dynamism and interdisciplinarity of the four key creative departments that will be housed there; they will each benefit from the other being in one building.