The Roundhouse

2010 RICS Project of the Year


overview of the scheme


The Roundhouse campus is a £46m development that has breathed new life into a historic industrial site, forming a new flagship vocational skills centre for Derby College.

Already being cited by English Heritage as an exemplar project✝, the Grade II* Listed former railway works built in 1839 includes the world's oldest roundhouse. The existing buildings have been restored, inhabited and extended with a series of exciting new contemporary insertions to form training workshops, classrooms, learning resources and support areas.

The collegeʼs brief required a series of connected large, open spaces for much of the vocational learning delivery and this fitted very well to the existing buildings. This meant that there has been no subdivision of the principle spaces - retaining their character and historic integrity. Where limited smaller spaces have been required, the architects, maber, have developed a pod product specifically for this project that provides a freestanding classroom with no detriment to the surrounding fabric. These pods have performed well and fulfil a number of criteria including acoustic and thermal insulation, as well as providing splashes of strong and vibrant colour in a controlled way to enliven the large railway sheds.

The site was developed in 1839 by four rival railway companies, including the North Midland Railway for whom George and Robert Stephenson were engineers. Robert was responsible for the engineering of the NMR buildings on the site, including the roundhouse, which were built for the sum of £62,000. The short, 12m turntable in the roundhouse quickly fell out of use by locomotives as rolling stock increased in size. For much of the last century the majority of the buildings have been used as stores. The roundhouse, or roundshed, became a crane repair workshop.


honest repair

For the last twenty years the buildings have been abandoned and over this period they fell into an appalling state of disrepair. Major structural problems developed due to water ingress and a significant proportion of roof and floor timbers had failed. Core samples from every piece of structural timber on the site were analysed to assess bearing capacity, water damage and species. This allowed a very detailed program of repairs which have been aimed at conserving as much of the original material as possible. A concept of “honest repair”, adapted from William Morris, has guided the choices made in repairing the original structure. This values the clear distinction between the new and old; careful to allow the observer to distinguish between the two. The masonry problems on site included failed brick and stone work. Cleaning strategies were painstakingly developed and many sample areas tested before the work was carried out. Rebuilding, replacing and repointing in a suitable gauged lime mortar has ensured that the masonry will survive for many years to come.

Great care was taken over the implementation of repairs and samples carried out in all cases for development. This included:


• micro-core samples of every piece of structural timber pre-start to establish species and bearing capacity and to draw up the repair schedule

• non-abrasive brickwork and masonry cleaning using degreasers and high pressure steam to avoid damage or an “over-cleaned” look

• reclaimed brick from selective demolition on site used exclusively for repairs

• lime mortar mix developed after lab testing mix found on site

• horse-hair lime plaster onto lathes where repairing or restoring plaster

• retention and repair of all the broken cast-iron windows with new sections cast and welded in

• complete re-roofing of the scheme with reclaimed Welsh slate

• all new lead valleys, gutters and roofs where originally constructed

• consultation with English Heritageʼs finishes expert to uncover the history of the paintwork

• use of either reclaimed site-won stone or new stone matched to original quarry




Key to the success of the scheme has been the excellent working relationship with the major funders, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, EMDA, ERDF and the LSC. Co-ordinating the priorities and objectives of so many funding bodies has required rigorous understanding of their expected outcomes, drawn down mechanisms and most importantly demanded getting to know the personalities involved.



The rich history of the site, itʼs manufacture of steam locomotives and rolling stock, along with the personalities involved with the site including the Stephensons and Matthew Kirtley (who pioneered the standardisation of components) has demanded a high level of interpretation and presentation of the past in the finished scheme. The college are not experienced museum curators and rather than present this information in a traditional format, it has been woven into the very fabric of the scheme. Wall sized super- graphics up to three storeys high show notable figures in contemporary graphic techniques with explanatory text to accompany them. Iconic images and experiences of the steam age are represented on glass, through colour palettes and in the details of the new elements of the scheme. Overarching concepts, such as the movement through space, the passage of time and the pioneering engineering spirit of the siteʼs founders are represented throughout the new and old buildings.

The building project was delivered on time and on budget (construction value £33m; project value £46m), following a traditional procurement route and was completed in July 2009.


history of the site

In 1894 over 8,000 people were employed at Derby Locomotive Department. The works covered 80 acres and the site had its own Gas Works, iron foundry and machine shops. Today the crumbling remains of Derbyʼs extensive Victorian railway works have been transformed into Derby Collegeʼs new flagship vocational campus.

This range of buildings are integral to the historical, architectural and social history of Derby, are regionally significant in terms of the industrial heritage of the Midlands and nationally important because of their unique architectural qualities and rarity. They represent easily the best preserved early purpose built railway works and include the worldʼs oldest surviving roundhouse. The importance of these buildings in our industrial heritage has been formally recognised by their Grade II* Listing.


continuing decay

The site had progressively been shut down by BREL over twenty years ago; with many industrial activities leaving for more modern buildings during the 1980s.

The site was purchased by Derby City Council in 1994, as part of the overall land reclamation process for the development of Pride Park, and from that point the buildings stood empty and continued to deteriorate year on year as successive winters took their toll. The buildings were eventually formally entered onto the Buildings at Risk Register.


“let the old be old & the new be new”


This was a maxim of William Morris, a founding member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient buildings; and it was central to the conservation and design philosophy that was adopted on this project.

Where inappropriate insertions or adaptations had taken place on site, they were carefully peeled away. Where the buildings had been amended to serve a new purpose or process, those changes were incorporated as part of the buildingʼs story. Where new insertions were required they were designed to capture the pioneering spirit of the engineers who had built the Works; the NASA of itʼs day.

The Roundhouse itself received straight forward restoration. The missing lantern was reinstated from photographic evidence and the ash-pits between the rails were carefully restored. The ash-pits were all boarded over with the exception of one which has been glazed and lit for visitors to see. The felt was removed from the roof and replaced with reclaimed Welsh slate. The modern rooflights were removed and new rooflights specially made to reinstate the original pattern. Ten of the 16 main trusses in the roof had failed and new sections of the same timber species were introduced with visible plate repairs so that new could not be mistaken for old.


classroom pods

A brand new classroom pod product was designed by maber with Norwood which allowed a self contained classroom environment to be created within the existing sheds.

The original design generators for a smaller, cellular space within the great sheds was a railway carriage or shipping container. Neither idea proved practical being; too long and thin, too heavy and too expensive.

Therefore a free standing classroom pod was needed, but it was discovered that nothing on the market offered enough transparency and a large enough clear span. maber set to work with a company more used to making cold-store rooms and invented the classroom pods which have been so successfully deployed across the campus.

They offer a way of introducing a splash of colour and crisply describe a modern space whilst being completely freestanding and not compromising the historic environment. They remove the need for secondary glazing to the cast iron windows for heat and acoustic attenuation. They are “plug-and-play” and avoid the need to fix large scale services to the historic fabric - instead siting them on the load bearing pod roof.



The rich history of the site, itʼs manufacture of steam locomotives and rolling stock, along with the personalities involved with the site including the Stephensons and Matthew Kirtley, has demanded a high level of interpretation and presentation of the past in the finished scheme.

The graphics feature large scale text, but also small text panels “hidden” in the half-tone dots for students to “find” that explain in more detail who the historical figures are, a little about their lives and what their important contributions were.




responsible stewardship

Derby College have an enviable track record promoting and practicing sustainability and reducing the energy costs associated with their operation. They were recently rated by the LSC as the fifth highest performing college in the country for their environmental performance; no mean feat for one of the countryʼs largest FE providers. Therefore, sustainability was a key concern from the start of the project.


brownfield site

The site was originally developed in 1839 as a green field site, but from that point onwards it was in continuous industrial use until the late 1980ʼs. The restoration and retention of the majority of the buildings on site has contributed significantly to reducing the embodied energy of the development as well as providing other tangible environment benefits:

• the contamination levels on site have been measured, and appropriate compensatory measures have been taken; contaminated material has been removed from the site and monitoring carried out

• a concentration of vermin (pigeons and rodents) found on site have been removed and denied further access to roosting by the the collegeʼs staff flying birdʼs of prey regularly

• the social blight of the abandoned buildings, which attracted graffiti, vandalism, break ins and travellers, has been removed by redevelopment

• the restored buildings form a fitting gateway to the city from the railway station, rather than being an eyesore

• increased footfall to and from the site has increased pedestrian safety on paths back to the city centre by increasing the volume of pedestrian traffic; rather than being an abandoned wasteland, the site is now a vibrant partner in the streetscape

• some specific toxic hazards have been removed from site and treated including stored oils and sulphuric acid, lead paint, asbestos and other industrial chemicals and hydrocarbons

• 82% of demolitions/arisings kept on site - most materials won were cleaned, reclaimed and reused in repair work


passive measures

The scheme has been carefully designed to optimise opportunities for passive design features to contribute to reducing energy consumption.

• passive solar; louvres or deep (7m) roof overhangs to south, east and west facing glazing on new buildings reduce the chance of overheating which reduces the energy for cooling

• passive ventilation; the entire Stephenson building enjoys passive ventilation: air passes through the façade and is extracted from the central street through stacks. The only exception to this are some areas that require specialist spot extract (gas assessment centre, dark room etc.)

• insulation; the new buildings enjoy a high level of thermal insulation. Opportunities to install insulation in the Listed buildings have been limited but roofs have been insulated in all cases and free standing classroom pods overcome the need for increasing the thermal performance of the original cast iron windows by providing a thermally independent learning environment in board of the external walls.

• glazing; secondary glazing could not be fitted to the cast iron windows, but insulation in

• those areas is generally achieved by using the classroom pods. However, secondary glazing was fitted to all of the timber sash windows to the existing offices (Francis Thompson building)

• good natural daylight; all classrooms enjoy a high level of natural daylight to reduce the need for artificial lighting

• re-use of materials; wherever elements have been removed or demolished, materials have been carefully set aside, reclaimed and reused on site. All of the standard bricks used in the masonry repairs were reclaimed from the demolition of the smithy. Natural stone was won from site, reworked and reused. Where this was not possible, reclaimed material was imported to site (e.g. roof slates) to reduce the embodied energy of the buildings

• careful specification of new materials; chains of custody for timber, Green Guide A rated products and a local supply chain wherever possible contributed to responsible sourcing and low embodied energy in the new materials used


active measures

Using new technologies has contributed the college achieving a high degree of responsible environmental stewardship. These include:

• low flow aerated tap heads

• high efficiency modulating gas boilers

• VRV systems where mechanical ventilation has been required so that waste heat can be moved around the building to benefit other areas

• highly effective controls scheme including passive IR for lighting and CO2 detection for ventilation

• low energy lighting

• grey water harvesting and re-use for non- potable water demand

• no student parking provided on site to encourage green transport supported by extended college bus scheme (transport plan commits to annual monitoring)


inclusive design

access for all

A Listed building is often an inherently hostile environment to those with limited mobility or other disabilities. The provision of a fully inclusive environment has been a design priority from the inception of the scheme and it is a fitting testament that this has been achieved, despite the constraints of the historic fabric. Level thresholds, lift access to all rooms and stories and a colour and signage scheme that provides easy navigation for the partially and non-sighted have all been achieved

Only one room has been unable to be adapted to provide full level access, and in this workshop the college have undertaken to ensure that the facilities available to learners on both sides of the room will be identical and thereby not deny any student access to learning.

• accessibility to the site was carefully considered too, with pedestrian access routes at each corner, minimising travel distances

• a new public footpath and cycleway linking Roundhouse Road to Pride Parkway has been built, improving sustainable and accessible travel links

• raised lawns are wheel chair accessible to allow every learner to access the landscaped areas

• disabled parking spaces for students and staff are located suitably close to their respective entrances

• a compound for guide dogs has been built which provides for exercise, feeding, drinking and latrine requirements

• raised kerbs at the bus stops reduce the step up or down onto the college busses

• textured pavement informs partial or non- sighted users of changes in surface or vehicular priority

• loop systems at key points (lecture rooms, reception desks etc) provide for hearing impaired users

• disabled shower rooms with changing facilities and hoists have been provided

• the college operate a network of additional learning support assistants who will work with learners and attend lessons to provide note taking, sign language or interpretation - broadening participation

• the specialist LINKS department, located in the Stephenson Building caters for students with disabilities or learning difficulties that require a higher degree of care and assistance

• signage is generally pictograms, raised and textured where accessible, to allow non- English speaking building users simple and intuitive navigation


use and re-use

sustainable thinking

Sustainability is about more than energy consumption and in bringing these buildings back to life a wide array of other benefits have been realised.

The college have seen a 15% increase in the student roll as a direct result of The Roundhouse development being completed which will improve the socio-economic chances for thousands more young people every year.

The Roundhouse is now open to the public and linked into the Cityʼs wider tourism offer with regular tours and open days.

A valuable oral history project by the college has recorded more than 60 ex-employees in video interviews so far which will provide a valuable resource for future generations.

Primary archaeological research carried out by maber during the development phase also added important details to the body of knowledge around the site and affected the adopted conservation plan by proposing more retention of the existing buildings than had previously been considered.

This important range of buildings will interest and delight visitors for years to come.


green issues

high quality landscape

From Yorkstone to specially grown pleached lime trees, the landscape offers very high quality intimate spaces and accessible public realm.

The public plaza in front of the station bridgeʼs stair tower creates a sense of arrival and permanence at the end of Roundhouse Road which has been missing for generations. Further work to be carried out by the City council and funded by EMDA will develop this area to an even higher standard and will match the high quality finishes used by the college on the other side of the road.

The landscape plan has been carefully developed to echo the memory of tracks which once criss-crossed the yard between the works and the station. Large formal set pieces give way to smaller more intimate garden rooms.

The college lawn has been designed to give students somewhere to enjoy the sun and relax - and although this is a raised area it is fully wheelchair accessible to ensure all members of the community are included.


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