What should an adult education centre look like for students whose ages range from 19 to 102? Working closely with the client team, AWW has co-created a landmark new home for the Mary Ward Centre in Stratford, East London.

The new Centre acts as a community hub and a haven for life-long learning in this distinctive re-invented building: the regeneration project both reflects and embraces Mary Ward’s culture and the needs of current and future occupants.

The Mary Ward Adult Education Centre is an Institute of Adult Learning - one of only ten in the UK - with up to 5,500 students passing through its doors a year. Mary Ward recognised the need for a new, larger home so they could continue to operate successfully with a student community of this size: the search for a solution began.

Queensway House in Stratford, a derelict 1970s three storey concrete framed building, was identified as having the potential to meet Mary Ward’s vision to consolidate both its sites and services into a single headquarters. The Stratford High Street location would also enable Mary Ward to have a far-reaching regeneration impact.

Mary Ward turned to SD Structures to deliver a full carbon assessment of the site, the structure and its capacities. These investigative works revealed that a full refurbishment and extension of the building was indeed possible and offered a 40% carbon reduction compared to the proposed demolition and rebuild. Thanks to our track record in designing and delivering retro-first projects, AWW was chosen as the architect on the team to deliver the reinvention of the existing Queensway House to represent the values and ethos that the Mary Ward Centre has built over its 128-year history.

Working with existing buildings is always challenging but rewarding, and a good contractor is fundamental to a successful outcome. Curo Construction were a key partner in this regard and continually overcame challenging constraints and unknowns to help deliver a high-quality end result.

Mary Ward also wanted to harness our collaborative experience in stakeholder engagement. AWW produced a series of workshops with the client and end users to develop the building programme and plans, defining the scope and scale of services. These workshops continued throughout the project, ensuring building users and staff felt engaged in the process and had a sense of ownership throughout.

Celebrating the retro-first approach, the completed Mary Ward Centre exposes the concrete frame of the original three storey office building, wrapping the new structure and programme around it. The existing concrete is left raw, ensuring the site’s history is encoded in the visual identity.

The Centre caters to a diverse mix of users, while also containing a varied programme. To ensure legibility, a series of interventions cut through the spaces, finished in a bold, yellow metal. These interventions articulate ingress points and key routes through the building, ensuring it is simple to navigate. The monochromatic colour scheme also acts as a visual identifier on the building approaches.

The choice of materials, the emphasis on retrofit, and the focus on creating a space that caters to diverse needs all contribute to the overarching goal of making the built environment more sustainable and equitable.

Today the Mary Ward Centre is bright, bustling, inclusive, full of hope and future possibilities. As the doors opened, heralding a new era in their history, we had the privilege of engaging in a thought-provoking discussion about the transformative power of architecture with the incredible Mary Ward team.

‘We're excited to witness the ripple effects of this transformation as our cutting-edge building perfectly complements our quirky and open approach. Heartfelt thanks to AWW for their enduring partnership.' - Mary Ward Adult Education Centre

The new Centre offers a real opportunity to connect with and provide positive transformation in the locality; at ground floor level, the reception and café are publicly accessible from Stratford High Street, inviting the general public into the building and opening up the activities within.

The floorplates have been reconfigured to maximise space efficiencies and promote enhanced connections between each of the floors. The design aims to strengthen a sense of community between users, staff and visitors and, above all, to provide a safe place to learn. The sequence of spaces has been designed to not only take a building user from the entrance to their destination, but also to ensure there are other spaces within their journey that offer opportunities for pause and connection.

As a practice, I look forward to witnessing and being a part of the positive impact this hub will have - now and in the future. We will stay close to the Mary Ward team through our post occupancy studies as the new Centre develops, and provide social value impact data to Mary Ward to continue to help maximise the building’s potential.

AWW is proud to have projects of this life-changing calibre in our portfolio. Listening to users and stakeholders enables us to deliver inclusive, welcoming and flexible design solutions that make it possible for the built environment to evolve in a sustainable and ethical way.

Social value impact continues to be a central influence in our practice and design work. Our last two landmark education projects have captured over £8m of added social value for the local community and building occupants, and we have recently enabled £2,500 equivalent of social value through our in-house student placement programme.