Work starts on new student hub for Bristol University

B4E editor Stephanie Broad visits former retail building to be transformed into £12 million hub for students and public

A major project to transform a former Habitat store into a new hub for students at the University of Bristol is underway. 

Beacon House, a Grade 2 listed building, will become a focal point of the University’s campus when it opens in spring 2016. It will also be the first of the university’s buildings to be open to the public. 

Midas Construction have been appointed to carry out the first phase renovation project, which involves an extensive overhaul and internal refurbishment to create a new University reception and student study centre. 

The flagship facility, which spans five storeys and 2,643 square metres, will accommodate up to 350 seats for student group and individual study. 

The new open-plan study area

A large bright reception and café space will be open to the public, providing a focal point for all visitors to the University, including prospective students and parents.

Beacon House will become a key part of the University’s campus thanks to its location between the Students’ Union on Queen’s Road and various teaching and research activities around Tyndall Avenue and Woodland Road. 

Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bristol, said: “As all local residents will know, this building stood empty for three years while the previous owners decided what they wanted to do with it. It is an absolutely iconic site for Bristolians – we still call it the Habitat building, even though it’s now called Beacon House. But for us, it’s an opportunity for us to do something transformative for our students by providing them with a great space to work in, but also to open ourselves up to the city. The city expects us to do something that they can see and enjoy, – it won’t be a conventional retail shop, but it will have a coffee shop here which will be for everyone, and a front door to the university where we can hold open days, meet the general public, and we have things we specifically want to share.

“The students can go through into another part of the building to do individual study, particularly for our humanities and social sciences students whose departments are just up the hill. Upstairs there is another, even bigger, space for more studying – probably a bit more individual studying up there. It gives them a place where they can come in off the street, perhaps on their way back from their halls of residency in Clifton or Stoke Bishop,  or on their way to the Student Union. It’s somewhere in the path between the rest of the campus just up the hill.”

The building enjoys a prominent position on Bristol’s Triangle

The project is the latest in a series of investments by the University in teaching and research facilities, totalling in excess of £200 million in the last two years. 

Patrick Finch, Bursar and Director of Estates at the University, added: “We are delighted to be working with Midas on this high profile project. Beacon House is currently a very tired building but it will be transformed over the next nine months into a fantastic space for students, staff, visitors and the public.” 

Derek Quinn, the Executive Director of Midas Construction, said: “The project has many challenges and through close collaboration with the University stakeholders, we have developed a solution to meet the expenditure and time constraints. We now look forward to delivering an industry leading performance throughout the delivery stage.” 

Beacon House, next to the Royal West of England Academy, was constructed in the 1850s and was formerly the Queen’s Hotel before being used for retail purposes – Gardiners in the 1930s, Debenhams after the war and more recently Habitat, which closed in 2011.    

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