Building for a brighter future

From high-tech newsrooms and triple-glazed glass walls to state-of-the-art laboratories, living walls and living spaces, Kim Renfrew looks at the brightest and best estates developments that are enhancing student experience and wellbeing around the UK

With more than 50,000 undergraduate courses on offer in the UK, choosing what and where to study doesn’t just hinge on the content of a course. For the UK’s 2.32 million students – of whom, more than 440,000 come from overseas – amenities in lecture halls, labs and social spaces are deciding factors in where to invest their money.

As Keith Lilley, Chair of Association of University Directors of Estates, who is also Director of Facilities Management & IT at the University of Sheffield, said: “Universities compete globally, not just nationally, to attract students and the international student market is hugely important, not because of the income it brings – but that is important for UK plc – but particularly because it gives UK students, home students, an international experience in their own country: we’re the second largest recruiter of international students after the USA.

“As a consequence we, as a sector, are competing internationally for quite high numbers of students from across the world; we have to be able to compete not just academically. For people, when they arrive at your university or are researching where they want to study, facilities play a very important supporting role.”

Institutions themselves are investing multiple millions to create built environments that attract the brightest and best through state-of-the-art teaching, research and residential facilities.

With £600m being invested over 10 years, Cardiff University is in the midst of a landmark regeneration that will “transform the campus for the 21st century”. Beginning in 2012–13, the project has already seen completion of the Hadyn Ellis Building (which houses the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute and the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute) and the £44m Brain Research Imaging Centre, with major developments still to come: work started in October on Innovation Central, a £50m incubator that will be used by entrepreneurs, businesses, academics and students, with Hawkins/Brown as architects. Planning permission is also being sought for a joint home for the School of Computer Science and Informatics, and School of Mathematics.

It’s not just science and business that’s the focus: a high-tech hub for humanities has been created in the new School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC) building, which opened at the start of the 2018–19 academic year. JOMEC has an international reputation – it was described by The Guardian as “the Oxbridge of journalism” – and the new building will make sure it continues to attract leading journalists of the future. Architects IBI Group with contractors ISG have created a centre that houses lecture theatres, a newsroom, TV and radio studios, editing suites, seminar rooms, library and labs, alongside postgraduate research spaces and a Centre for Community Journalism.

Users mingle and share ideas on a social staircase rather than more traditional common rooms. Key to the project is its position in the city, strategically sited next to BBC Cymru Wales’ HQ, currently being constructed on Central Square, allowing students to cultivate meaningful industry links. Head of JOMEC Professor Stuart Allan said: “Students in the School of Journalism, Media and Culture benefit from a wide range of relationships with our news organisation partners, as well as those in the cultural and creative industries more widely. We actively pursue productive synergies to enrich our teaching and research, and to help open up new career opportunities for our students.

“Our new home in the centre of Cardiff, with its world-class facilities, enhances our efforts to forge exciting ways forward, both at the local level as well as internationally.”

A rich, productive student life doesn’t result solely from hours in the library, lab or lecture theatre, which is why the university has brought in Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios for the Centre for Student Life at the Cathays Campus. Construction began in September 2018, and the centre will support current and future generations of Cardiff students through mental health and wellbeing facilities, alongside social and study spaces. The entire site is being developed with sustainability at core: energy is supplied via renewables wherever possible and natural ventilation, a green roof and energy-efficient lighting are used throughout; the building is likely (along with JOMEC) to achieve a BREEAM ‘excellent’ score.

In Nottingham, the University is working on a sustainable future for students, researchers and the planet, with continuing development of the 65-acre Jubilee Campus. Recently completed, the £25m, 97,000 sq ft Advanced Manufacturing Building has Bond Bryan as architects, Arup as engineers and GF Tomlinson as the contractors, with Turner & Townsend project managing. The Faculty of Engineering’s new home consists of labs, workshops and teaching spaces that will play a transformational role in UK manufacturing, with robotics, nano-scale production and 3D printing all being studied on site.

Also on Jubilee Campus, the Research Acceleration and Demonstration (RAD) building is ambitiously high-tech in terms of the subjects that will be researched there and the construction, with sustainability again the key. Work on the 2,319m2 building is being carried out by Woodhead Construction, with architects Lewis & Hickey. The interdisciplinary hub will research sustainable energy, from hydrogen storage and wind harvesting to efficient machinery design. Breakout spaces are a significant feature, allowing researchers and students to meet and share ideas in more relaxed settings.

Befitting a centre that will focus on future-proofing energy consumption, the development itself is being constructed to the most exacting standards and will be the first building of its type to meet both BREEAM and Passivhaus ‘excellent’ standards. This is being achieved by maximising energy efficiency at every turn: variable air volume ventilation, LED lighting, triple glazing and structured insulated panels are used throughout. Such measures are expected to deliver a 61% improvement in heating and cooling demands, and a 23% improvement in carbon emissions. A spokesperson for the University of Nottingham said: “Landmark developments like the Advanced Manufacturing Building and the Research Accelerator Demonstrator Building on our Jubilee Campus demonstrate the University’s ambitions and commitment to pioneering research in cutting-edge facilities.”

The building’s green credentials are bolstered even further by an impressive four-storey living wall, with plants grown by specialists ANS Global; as well as improving air quality, the green wall increases energy efficiency by cooling air in summer and insulating during cold weather.

In Scotland, the University of Stirling continues to draw students to its sports offering as a subject – it offers BA, BSc and MSc courses – and an essential part of health and wellbeing. Officially designated “Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence”, it is home to Sport Scotland, Commonwealth Games Scotland, Scottish Swimming and Triathlon Scotland, and has produced world-class athletes, including Olympians, Paralympians and Commonwealth medallists.

It is reinforcing this reputation by investing £20m in a new sports complex. Construction began in autumn 2018 and is due to be operational by 2020. The centre will include a fitness suite, sports hall, indoor cycling, strength and conditioning areas and a high-tech, high-performance suite to complement the existing National Swimming Academy and National Tennis Centre. Architects are FaulknerBrowns, with Faithful+Gould project managing.

Director of Sport Cathy Gallagher highlighted accessibility of sport at Stirling for all, whether as elite competitors or for pleasure: “Our ambition is to set standards at local, national and international levels and the significantly enhanced facilities will unleash new participation, innovative opportunities and an unrivalled experience.

“The unique feature of sport at the University of Stirling is the environment within which Olympic medallists train and compete alongside students, staff and the wider community. This development will mark the beginning of another exciting chapter for sport at the University and within the Stirling area.”

The complex is part of the wider Campus Central project, the University’s most comprehensive upgrade since its foundation in the 1960s, which Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Gerry McCormac said will “help us achieve our strategic aim of being one of the top 25 universities in the UK by 2021”.

As with the sports centre, the emphasis is on providing an enhanced student experience. Campus Central will include a new three-storey building, adding 3,000m2 of much-needed floor space, and see new learning and research collaboration spaces, plus better facilities for student support. Onsite retail and catering facilities will better meet the needs of the diverse student population, and the campus will be integrated with space around it, with the University’s natural surroundings being emphasised.

For most students, the biggest expense after tuition is accommodation. With annual costs often topping £5,000, students expect certain levels of comfort and conviviality for their outlay, while institutions themselves compete to keep pace with growing student numbers.

Currently, the University of Warwick scores 77% in the ‘good accommodation score’ in the 2018 Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey. With the developments currently taking place, it looks set to score even higher: Warwick is reimagining the site of the former Redfern residences as Cryfield Village, with a plan to “create a benchmark for future generations of campus accommodation, firmly placing student experience and wellbeing at the heart of the development brief,” according to Andrew Drummond, Associate at RH Architects Partnership, the architects behind this brownfield development.

Housing 1,000 students in six to 12-bed townhouses, studios and apartment buildings, it combines three existing 1970s buildings with 13 new ones arranged around a central ‘village hall’ mixing practicality with leisure to meet the requirements of its diverse residents. There will be study rooms, a laundry, cinema, music room and multifunctional spaces. Said Drummond: “One of the key drivers for the project has been to deliver new styles of accommodation, and to mix different social group sizes targeting students at different stages of their university lives, and importantly offer different rent levels within the same community.”

The £57m development, constructed by Kier Group, has more capacity than the complex it replaces, in the longer-term supporting Warwick’s growth plans and providing top-of-the-range accommodation for increasing student numbers. Roofs are set to be installed by the end of autumn term 2018 and the village is due to open in summer 2019. It is part of Warwick’s decade-long investment programme that has seen nearly £60m being invested annually and which is due to conclude at the end of 2020.

For the UK’s 2.32 million students – of whom, more than 440,000 come from overseas – amenities in lecture halls, labs and social spaces are deciding factors in where to invest their money.

In terms of the overall wellbeing and, therefore, performance of students, the right kind of light plays a vital a role. One of the ways of maximising this is through effective use of glass. Research shows natural light has a huge impact on mood and energy levels, and can boost creativity, concentration and ability to learn.

At Imperial College London’s new development in White City, architectural glazing manufacturer Kawneer has been working with architects Aukett Swanke and contractors Laing O’Rourke to design two types of curtain walling for the centrepiece of the college’s first new campus in over 100 years.

The Molecular Sciences Research Hub (MSRH) opened this autumn and encompasses laboratories, support facilities, lecture spaces and an energy centre that will service over 50% of buildings on campus. For the south elevation, Kawneer created made-to-measure, twin-skin, triple-glazed ventilated curtain walling, based on their own AA201 system.

On the north side, a single-skin version of this system has been installed, along with fixed-light casement windows and entrance doors from the company’s most thermally efficient range, AA720.

The south facade uses impressive storey-height, twin-skin curtain walling to maximise daylight in the building and also reduce noise: a vital consideration, given that the building sits near the Westway flyover and mainline railway tracks. Daylight is also in abundance in MSRH’s north elevation, where a glazed atrium stretching the height of the stepped building’s nine storeys creates visual drama. For this, Kawneer used a single-skin AA201 curtain wall.

Most of the upper storeys are four metres, a height influenced by the need for flexibility: the space will be used as labs, offices and learning spaces. Limitations imposed by town planning and optimum precast modular-cladding height also played a role. The estates team at Imperial was keen to make the most of pre-fabrication technology, so construction could be quick and site-based fabrication avoided wherever possible. The research hub welcomed the first of its students in autumn 2018.


2nd April 2PM [GMT]​