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Lean green learning machines

Universities are increasingly looking to bolster their green credentials through a series of sustainable building initiatives

By Mark Ferguson

For some red brick universities with their city-locked campuses, miles of electrical cabling, single pane windows and expansive 19th-century lecture theatres, the growing demand for green refurbishment and replacement has been a challenge. Some have refused to submit data to the latest People & Planet league tables arguing that the high levels of data required, lack of allowance for differences between universities, and summer timing of the survey has made it impossible for them to respond. Their opponents and league table-leaders counterclaim that under-performing universities are simply refusing to play ball and don’t want to engage in an arena they cannot [or will not] make efforts to improve in. That said, the results from a growing list of universities show that HEIs are taking the challenge of becoming greener more seriously than ever before.

BREEAM has become widely accepted as the industry standard for best practice in sustainable building design, construction and operation, and it is this measure that most HEIs are using to illustrate their environmental worth. A BREEAM assessment recognises levels of a building’s environmental performance and uses measures of performance set against established benchmarks to evaluate a building’s specification, design, construction and use. These criteria cover a broad range of categories, ranging from energy to ecology, water use, health and wellbeing, through to pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology and management processes. Others are taking approaches such as the Passivhaus system, a German-devised standard which aims to make properties efficient in heating and cooling.

So which universities are helping save the planet and creating a good impression for their current and prospective students at the same time? Here are some of the most innovative and forward-looking examples in 2015:

University of Leicester

When it opens during the next academic year, the University of Leicester’s state-of-the-art Centre for Medicine will be aiming to achieve record levels of energy efficiency. From the outset, the University was keen to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, working with architects and designers to develop an environmentally friendly building. 

The six-storey, 12,863m² facility will feature flexible teaching and research spaces as well as two green roofs and a green wall, emphasising the University’s ecological contribution. The Centre’s underground piping system will help it to achieve Passivhaus status, becoming the largest Passivhaus building in the UK, featuring some of the most stringent energy performance standards in the world. A ground air heat exchange system will control the building’s temperature, sucking air from outside the building through 1.6km of underground pipes, heating (or cooling) it to 16 degrees. Whether the external temperature is minus five or plus 30, this system will provide a constant temperature at a low cost in terms of carbon emissions and energy, reducing the University’s annual energy bill by up to six times.

Other features set to lower the building’s energy consumption include: ‘intelligent lifts’ permitting  access only to floors authorised to cardholders, eliminating unnecessary journeys; external blinds that will descend automatically when certain heat levels are reached, avoiding the need for mechanical cooling; and low-energy LED lights throughout. Designed by Associated Architects, the Centre for Medicine features a ground and first floor covering the whole site. It then rises to three separate towers of three, five and six floors to meet the demands of Passivhaus, and to accommodate lecture theatres, laboratories and offices.

“We chose the three towers design because of the need to get natural light in and have glazed areas that would help to heat the building,” explains Jon Chadwick of Associated Architects. “Having three towers gives the building a larger surface area. We have positioned the large lecture theatres on the lower floors so that the building becomes more private as you go up in height. “From an aesthetic point of view, we did not want the architecture to be subservient to the environmental performance.”

The £42m facility will be the largest investment in medical teaching and applied research by a UK university in the last decade. In addition to its environmental credentials, the building is also offering the University an opportunity to transform its medical curriculum, providing cutting-edge facilities to harness innovative technologies to put patients right at the heart of teaching.

Birmingham City University

Birmingham City University has continued the development of its world-class estate with the construction of The Curzon Building. The 24,300m² Curzon Building is the second phase of the University’s City Centre Campus expansion, opening in September 2015. Built to provide a ‘front door’ to the University and act as a landmark presence at the end of Eastside City Park, The Curzon Building has been constructed to the University’s usual high standards with a high performance envelope and to engage the thermal mass of the structure.

Through the use of mixed mode ventilation, including opening windows, the internal environment of the building will be maintained at a comfortable level with user control where appropriate. A biomass boiler and adiabatic cooling will also contribute to the target of the building obtaining a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating and EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating of A.

The Curzon Building will be the location of the University’s student hub in the City Centre, in addition to housing services such as the library, catering, student services and the Students’ Union. The building will also be home to business, English, law and social sciences students. Unique to this project is the restoration and incorporation of the previously derelict and neglected Grade II listed Eagle and Ball public house into The Curzon Building and the University’s estate. Connected to The Curzon Building by a direct bridge on two levels, the public house has been restored it to its former glory using traditional materials and techniques.

Built between 1840 and 1850 the Eagle and Ball pub is Victorian in style with some Georgian influences and has been listed for its architectural features.Closed in 2007, many of its original features had been lost through vandalism and theft and the building fallen into disrepair. The University has worked with specialists in the reconstruction of historical properties to rebuild structurally unsound walls using reclaimed bricks, sourced reclaimed slate to replace the roof and used traditional construction methods such as lime plastering to restore the building to its original state. Opening in September 2015, the Eagle and Ball will house the University’s Students’ Union.

University of Bedfordshire

Sustainability is an essential element in the designs of new buildings constructed at the University of Bedfordshire, with a BREEAM rating of excellent the University’s standard accreditation for all its new buildings.

Adam Higgin Head of Environmental Sustainability explains: “Part of our ‘greening of the campus’ strategy is to achieve this excellent rating in all new campus buildings and one way we strive to achieve this is to work with the architect from design upwards.”

The Gateway, the new teaching and learning building at the University’s Bedford Campus has a green sedum roof to increase the biodiversity of the surrounding area. Rainwater is then harvested from the roof.

The new building also uses solar panels and a wildflower meadow has been planted to the rear of the building.

“We get our BREEAM rating 12 months post occupation, so are hoping for a rating of excellent in January 2016,” comments Higgin.

An excellent rating is awarded to just 10% of the UK’s new non-domestic buildings.

The new library at the University’s Luton Campus, due to open in January 2016 measures in at 7,400 m2 set out over seven storeys. Its heating and hot water needs will be met by a district heating system, connected to the University’s other buildings and resulting in much lower costs and more space available for learning resources.

It will also be highly thermally efficient, keeping down energy consumption as well as CO2 emissions. In addition the roof structure has also been planned with a rainwater harvesting system in place.

This commitment to tackling climate change has paid dividends in the annual University Green League, published by the Guardian. With a position of 124 in 2009, the University has seen its league place gradually rise in recent years, achieving its highest position ever in 2014 when it came in 14th and was awarded a First Class Honours.

The University of Manchester

The National Graphene Institute is a new research facility dedicated to the research of Graphene to enable the University and UK to lead the commercialisation of this new material. Graphene was discovered in 2004 by two University of Manchester Scientists in the Physics Department, Professor Andre Geim and Professor Konstantin Novoselov, who were jointly awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their achievement. This miracle material is tougher than diamond, has more elasticity than rubber and is a better conductor than copper. Its uses are numerous, such as for flexible mobile screens, in super-light batteries, artificial retinas, and as a highly effective drug delivery systems to name a few.

Research and development into this material of the future required an appropriate facility in line with the University’s commitment to developing a sustainable campus along with a 40% carbon reduction by 2020. The project team, led by EC Harris, subsequently collaborated to design, build and deliver a sustainable facility with a BREEAM Very Good rating. This goal was realised in March 2015, putting the facility in the top 15% of UK new non-domestic buildings.

The sustainable features of The National Graphene Institute include:

● Low and zero carbon technologies, such as making use of waste heat from other University processes to heat and cool through an absorption chiller
● The use of sustainably sourced and manufactured materials
● Thermal modelling, thermographic survey and seasonal commissioning to reduce overheating, thermal bridging and efficient plant operation
● Maximised natural daylight to reduce need for artificial lighting
● High efficiency T5 fluorescent lamps and LEDs controlled by absence detection and daylight sensors
● Energy efficient lifts featuring standby mode, variable speed and LED lighting
● Enhanced acoustics to improve comfort and remove external noise
● Sub-metering of plant and systems to maximise energy monitoring and reductions.
● Intelligent water metering to identify leaks
● Rainwater harvesting to minimise mains water requirements
● Excellent access to public transport
● Enhanced biodiversity for planting and wildlife through the use of bird boxes, a green roof, off-site planting and a five-year habitat management plan.

Swansea University

The Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University is a BREEAM Outstanding building and the centrepiece of the University’s research into renewable and alternative energy production. Measuring 3968m² and delivered at a cost of £12.6m, it is also the new home of SPECIFIC, a renewable energy joint venture with Indian steel manufacturer, TATA.

Designed by Stride Treglown architects, the building accommodates a showcase lecture theatre, high-quality offices, communal areas, meeting rooms, research offices, scientific testing and experimental laboratories. Its orientation, layout and natural ventilation help to achieve passive low energy. In addition it incorporates a micro CHP unit as well as solar PV, rainwater harvesting and full LED lighting.

All areas except the lecture theatre are naturally ventilated with opening windows. Natural cross ventilation is provided to the main open-plan spaces on the north with acoustic attenuation against the traffic noise of the busy main road into Swansea – Fabian Way. A displacement ventilation distribution system provides conditioned air for the lecture theatre.

University of Gloucestershire

The University of Gloucestershire is an integral part of Cheltenham, providing a range of educational, vocational, economic and community benefits to the town. One of the University’s most recent estates projects is the redevelopment of its Pittville Campus. Partially used for student accommodation the proposal is an opportunity for the University to make better and more efficient use of its existing assets, while also enhancing the social, environmental and economic benefits of Cheltenham. This position is supported by the environmental benefits, which can be seen in plans to redevelop brownfield sites, plant trees, improve building energy efficiency, and reducing the overall carbon footprint of the site.

In line with its estate strategy the University hopes to add 577 new student bedrooms to the Pittville Campus, while refurbishing 214 existing bedrooms and its existing Media Centre. Design took a ‘fabric first’ approach and incorporates measures to efficiently reduce energy use and achieve an energy efficient campus with as low as possible CO2 carbon emissions within the constraints of budget. The main energy use for the development (80%) will be fossil fuels to provide heating. This demand will be constant, which suggests that combined heat and power (CHP) is the best technology to achieve the facility’s carbon offset target. A spokesman adds: “The key drivers are to provide a new vibrant, efficient and sustainable residential community in the form of a new Student Village with a range of accommodation formats and amenity facilities.

“With regards planning permission and policy, the project has three agendas it must achieve: BREEAM Excellent standard; a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions using low or zero carbon technology; and a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions from regulated building energy consumption.”

Do you know of any sustainable university building initiatives? Why not tell us about it? Email the editor: rebecca.paddick@wildfirecomms.co.uk

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