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£25m plan for Exeter Deaf Academy

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

The design features a triangular building with its own covered "learning forest"

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EXETER'S Deaf Academy has unveiled its pioneering final design for its £25m new site.

It features a triangular building with its own covered "learning forest" designed by award-winning architects de Rijke Marsh Morgan at Hill Barton, on the site of the old St Luke's secondary school.

The final design for the academy is already attracting interest from America, Australia and Europe, and the charity claims the building will be a globally significant development for deaf people. It will be raising the money needed by selling its current site off Topsham Road, fundraising and grants. Supermarket Asda has expressed an interest in taking over the former site.

The academy brings £6m of fee income into the local economy and employs almost 200 people.

The striking design of the new building is intended to make it easy to communicate in sign language.

It will also house services for the local community, including a cafe, hairdressing salon, hydrotherapy pool, lecture theatre and performance area.

Michael Spooner, lead architect on the project, said: "We have designed a building around those who communicate visually, through sign language. Light is incredibly important, and natural light permeates the whole building.

"The outside of the building is covered in multicoloured ceramic 'brise soleil' that maximise daylight and controls glare, as well as helping the building stay cool. The new building also has very good acoustics, so deaf children can make the most of the hearing they do have.

"Not surprisingly, deaf students are incredibly visual. The building exterior therefore incorporates colour, representing the progression from pre-school to college, as well as texture, resulting in a façade that changes from side-to-side, and depending on the time of day."

The architects have also maximised the open spaces within the academy.

Mr Spooner said: "It's hard to communicate in sign language if you can't walk down a corridor side by side because it is not wide enough, or if the rooms are too small to enable a class to all see each other. Deaf children can't sit in rows – they need to see each other to communicate, so they need to sit in semi-circles or horse shoe shapes. That means more space.

"We have also made the interior spaces more fluid and softer, eliminating sharp corners and sudden encounters, maximising visual connectivity while also considering how privacy can be provided where required."

The academy is run by one of Exeter's oldest charities, which has operated since 1827. The new building will enable it to expand its services, improving the lives of deaf people of all ages.

Jonathan Farnhill, chief executive of the Deaf Academy, said: "The new academy will be an inspiring, creative environment which will enable deaf children to thrive and achieve more than they ever felt possible. Many of our children come to us with low self-confidence having really struggled previously.

"This building will stimulate and encourage them to rediscover their enthusiasm and abilities.

"On the new site residential accommodation will be separate from school and it will be homely, just like it is for everyone else."

Mr Farnhill believes the new build project is about much more than a school. Chime, the social enterprise the academy helped establish, will be based on the new site. It delivers audiology services on behalf of the NHS.

It will be joined by other agencies and organisations that work with deaf children and their families.

"By bringing services for deaf children under one roof we know we can improve them, improve the way we work together and identify where we need to develop new services," he said.

An application for full planning permission has been submitted to Exeter City Council.

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