Combining the old with the new

Refurbishing ancient university buildings holds a number of challenges. UB spoke to property consultancy Bidwells to find out more

Many university buildings are listed and/or located in conservation areas. There are often different stakeholders involved, all with their own expectations and there’s a need to create a building that will last for a long time to come. That’s in addition to the usual project challenges of completing on time and on budget.

Jesus College, Cambridge

Jesus College wanted to refurbish its Chapel Court on-site student accommodation. The £11m project involved the renovation and insertion of en suite bathrooms within the historic Chapel Court, one of the largest collegiate courts in Cambridge and with staircases on the Grade II Listed north-east wings dating back to 1884 and 1927.

In addition to increasing the number of lettable student rooms from 87 to 121, the design team also needed to make the historic complex more efficient and sustainable by rationalising the accommodation and increasing thermal performance and service provision.

However with a Grade II Listed building, creating a specific sustainable agenda for the long-term posed some challenges. Introducing insulation and secondary glazing were particularly complex because of the listed status.

Nicholas Pettit, Head of Project Management at Bidwells, said: “In addition to the usual challenges of refurbishing historical and listed buildings, we needed to achieve our sustainability objectives. The team spent a great deal of time finding the right balance between the cost of installing new technology such as ground source heat pumps and photovoltaic panels and managing lifecycle costs. This involved looking at capital expenditure versus long-term savings.

“As ever with buildings of this age and status, we had to work closely with our local Planning Conservation Officer and also the representative from English Heritage to ensure that any changes we were recommending were sympathetic and there was no loss of historic fabric.”

Trinity College, Cambridge

As a Grade I listed building, Trinity College Chapel is one of the most prominent buildings in Cambridge, a popular tourist attraction and used extensively for lectures, recitals and services.

Trinity College had been undertaking piecemeal reactive maintenance and repairs in its Chapel. Project management was now required to organise and oversee a number of works, including installation of a new amplification system suitable for music and speech, refurbishment of stained glass windows, internal redecoration and restoration of the statues and sculptures.

As the Bidwells Team embarked on the scheme, it became clear that the disruption and economic impact of the works could be minimised if the works were amalgamated into a series of phases, each coordinated to span the College’s vacation periods over a number of years.

This approach enabled the College to include also the replacement of the under-floor heating; something that had been delayed because of its disruptive nature.

The listed status of the building, combined with the specialist nature of the work required, prompted the formation of an experienced and diverse project group, external professionals such as acoustic experts, ecclesiastical architects, stonemasons and lighting designers all led by Bidwells Building Consultancy Team.

Nicholas Pettit added: “The brief was to repair everything and then put it all back together so no-one would notice it had happened. This posed some challenges, particularly with the 2,500 carrera marble floor tiles. Each one had to be logged before being removed for storage with a plan on where each needed to be re-installed.”

Brasenose College, Oxford

A £9.7m project to redevelop accommodation and facilities at the heart of Brasenose College, Oxford included providing enhanced kitchen and dining accommodation, restoration of the Hall and the construction of a new rotunda and dining area for the College Fellows.

There were a number of significant challenges, including the fact that the entire site is listed – much of it Grade I –and also landlocked by other College land, so there were no opportunities to expand the footprint.

Nicholas Pettit continued: “Local architects Berman Guedes Stretton created a scheme which used the basements to provide a kitchen that would be suitable for future growth requirements and the increasing use of the facilities for conferences as well as students. Some of the buildings date from the 15th and 16th centuries so one of the key challenges was to integrate modern, efficient equipment into a listed building whilst protecting the existing fabric.

“Given these constraints, we had to look carefully at the best ways to deliver the project, with minimal impact on the College which had to remain fully functional over the five terms of the works.’

Apart from technical challenges, another key need was to meet the expectations of the different stakeholders involved in the project – the College (Fellows, students and staff), historians and archivists – all of whom were understandably passionate about creating a solution that would be sympathetic to the old buildings but using modern materials and with a long life expectancy.

“Once under way, we were able to keep the project on track and ensure a high calibre of building work which was undertaken by Kingerlee, who are craftsmen in construction. This included traditional techniques being used throughout, including for the stonework and polished plaster.”


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