Wood is good

Timber proved the ideal choice for a new energy-efficient development at Plymouth University'€™s Truro campus

The student accommodation market is still buoyant. That was the claim of Knight Knox International in September last year. It has become a growing area for construction and one of the best performing asset classes of the past decade.

It has also been an increasingly successful area for Stewart Milne Timber Systems. The company has worked on a number of university projects in recent years, some of which have achieved BREEAM ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’ status.

Among the former category is the company’s project with BAM Construction and architects Burwell Deakins at Plymouth University’s Truro campus. The university has an award-winning reputation for sustainability and, as such, for the project to be deemed a success, it was important that the structures reflected this fact through their energy efficiency and build fabric.

The full development consists of five blocks of four-storey units, arranged as a series of individual four- and five-bedroom flats, all of which feature modern facilities. In total, the project houses 232 of the university’s medical students.

In addition to its sustainability credentials, the campus was designed with two further features in mind. First, the university was keen to avoid the complex having an institutional feel and appearance. Second, it was important to the institution that the buildings were distinct from the hospital, beside which the accommodation is based. Timber was, therefore, the ideal choice as energy efficiency could be achieved through the build envelope.

To separate the structures from their surroundings, the blocks were arranged around a central landscaped area, with materials such as timber frame, Siberian larch rain screen cladding and a low pitched standing seam zinc roof, which was selected to match the woodland surroundings and to create a series of buildings with a different identity to the hospital.

With experience across a number of similarly ambitious, large-scale projects aiming to achieve the highest BREEAM standards, Stewart Milne Timber Systems was selected to provide the timber frame for the development.

Partnership with main contractor BAM Construction was crucial to its success, as timber was a relatively new material to this particular division of the company. Stewart Milne Timber Systems, therefore, worked closely with the design team from an early stage to ensure the final design was in line with the overall build programme. This helped to make sure the project ran smoothly thereafter.

Stewart Milne Timber Systems employed a fabric first approach, combined with the use of a semi-closed pre-insulated panel system, which achieved an external wall U-value of just 0.21, representing excellent thermal performance. Additionally, the use of this system and a pre-fabricated cassette floor helped to reduce the overall build time. Stewart Milne Timber Systems also fitted an acoustic floor system and the stairs for the blocks, which streamlined the supply chain process and contributed further to the speed of the build programme.

Speed was a vital aspect of the project, with strict schedules shaped by term times non-negotiable. Offsite construction processes were used to meet the necessary deadlines, while also reducing the amount of waste, allowing the timber kit for all seven blocks to be completed in just 16 weeks.

Despite restricted budgets, it is possible to deliver excellent energy efficiency and sustainability credentials without impacting on the bottom line. The project at Plymouth University demonstrates that the use of a fabric first approach, in combination with a naturally sustainable building material, can deliver a quick speed of build and excellent energy efficiency all within budget, while staying true to the architect’s original designs.

The project team

Client: Plymouth University
Architect: Burwell Deakins
Contractor: BAM Construction
Timber construction: Stewart Milne Timber Systems

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