The Forum interior

- Culture + Community
- Higher Education

The Forum: Regenerating the heart of Southend-on-Sea

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
University of Essex
South Essex College

Culture + Community
Higher Education

Interior Design
Landscape Design


Liz Jarrett
Roger FitzGerald


Set in the heart of Southend-on-Sea, the Forum posed a unique challenge for us. Three clients – Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, the University of Essex, and South Essex College – had come together with a vision for a new shared building combining their different needs. It would include a learning resource hub, a cultural venue, and a new public square.

These needs would obviously change over time, so we also had to design the spaces to be flexible, and to last. An ambitious, robust sustainability strategy was therefore a crucial part of the brief.

Our design for the Forum focused on bringing the three different types of user together in a shared community space. A central atrium helps students and members of the public to feel more connected, while giving the building itself a powerful, unified identity.

The same thinking lay behind each facility in the Forum: the library includes spaces for children and adults, and we allowed for varying levels of public access to the art galleries, lecture theatre, and teaching facilities. With large areas of glazing across the ground floor spaces, locals and visitors can see into the building from the new public square – designed by our in-house landscape team. In contrast, the other side of the Forum faces a residential street, and we took care

throughout the design process to allow the building to transition elegantly to this more intimate scale.

This four-storey, 2,800m2 building has a surprisingly light footprint – something we explored from the outset. By using exposed in-situ concrete for the structure and generous floor-to-floor heights, we helped the building to keep an even temperature. Photovoltaics and ground source heat pumps complete the picture, and the Forum achieved BREEAM “Excellent”: a testament to its highly sustainable design.

In light of the Forum’s success, we are now designing a “younger sibling” – the Forum 2 – which is due to open in 2021.

“All of the partners are immensely proud of the Forum, Southend-on-Sea’s resounding success. As well as being an attractive asset for the town and the student community, it has drawn visitors from around the world, keen to understand how this successful project works.”