Function rooms

UB Editor Rebecca Paddick looks at the functional living and learning spaces catering to student needs

We all know that the modern day student wants more. They want the very best education, and the facilities to match. They want luxury living space in a thriving city, and they want the latest technology on tap. It’s a big ask, but UK universities are certainly giving it all they’ve got.

In the zone

When the University of Leeds decided to refurbish its Language Zone it started from the ground up. The University chose the latest collection from modular flooring manufacturer, Interface, to help create a unique and inspiring area for students to learn. “We wanted to create a stand-out design that was different to any other location at the University,” says Kay Tuke Swithenbank, Interior Designer at the University of Leeds.

“That said, the well-being of our students is always our top priority and therefore we needed to make sure the space would allow them to focus and feel comfortable, at the same time as inspiring them.”

Located in the Grade-II listed Parkinson building, the Language Zone consists of a reception area, seating space, and communal and individual computing pods. The project brief was to create a learning zone that would draw both students and visitors into the Zone, encourage concentration, and provide a great overall education experience.

Working alongside Interface’s interior design team, Kay chose the Human Nature collection, which takes inspiration from biophilic design – human’s innate connection to the natural world.

“We were able make use of the shape of the tiles, which come in skinny planks, to delineate areas. For example, we added bright orange accent planks in the reception areas to lead people into the main room. The compact pebbled design surrounds the computer pods and gradually disperses as students move toward the seating areas, taking them on a journey through the space.”

Acoustics were also a key concern as sound is a real issue in the building when students are practising language skills in conversations and group discussions. Kay adds: “The Human Nature carpet tiles were much thicker than other products we looked at and therefore perfect for the Language Zone, as they minimised sound transfer within the space, making it easier for students to concentrate.” 

Enhancing student life

When the University of Bristol decided to refurbish its Student’s Union, it aimed to not only enhance student life at the University but also offer new facilities and events for the public to enjoy. To suit ever-evolving student needs, The SU has now undergone a £30m transformation, which has taken five years to complete.

The Richmond Building was built in 1965 and remains one of the largest purpose-built students’ union buildings in the UK, with a floor area equivalent to nearly four full-size football pitches. The original building was designed to meet the pastoral, recreational and social needs of an expanding student population living away from home. Hence the original design included large meeting rooms, television and games rooms, a barber, a bakery, dining rooms and bars, a proscenium theatre and a swimming pool.

Now, exactly 50 years later, the building has undergone a complete overhaul to meet the needs of modern-day students. The refurbished building boasts 200 new study spaces, with spectacular views across the city, two state-of-the-art theatres, two café bars with a full programme of events, several activity rooms, a digital media suite, dance studios, music studios and refurbished gig venue, The Anson Rooms, with a capacity for over 1,000 people.

By replacing the old swimming pool air handling plant with a new heat recovery system, it’s estimated that 116 tons of carbon emissions are being saved per year, reducing pool running costs by more than £14,000 in that period. 

Not only has the concrete exterior been enhanced, the interior has been completely remodelled and it’s now a sustainable building fit for the future, with improved natural lighting, ventilation, sound insulation and better disabled access. It’s a very rare example of a 1960s building being renovated to a BREEAM Excellent environmental standard. Professor Sir Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, said: “We have always been very lucky to have such a large Students’ Union building, with so many facilities under one roof, but it was looking tired and we were keen to bring it into the 21st century.

“Staff and students have been very patient during the transformation but everyone agrees that it has been well worth the effort and upheaval. It is now an exciting hub of activity and a place which our students can be proud of for years to come.” Moss is even growing in the interior walls of The Balloon café bar and a ‘brown roof’ has been created on the new extension roof from local flora, recycled aggregate and felled timber.

Learning to living

And it’s not just the learning space that has to be fit for purpose. The University of Roehampton says its new halls of residence will cement its status as the pre-eminent campus university in London, by providing more students with the opportunity to live on site with easy access to the grounds, library and students’ union. Construction work recently started on the University’s new hall of residence at its Digby Stuart College.

The yet-to-be-named hall will be built at the very heart of the University’s campus on top of what was a car park. The ‘figure of eight’ shaped hall will be based around two central courtyards, and will include 390 study bedrooms, as well as flexible teaching space. Once completed by contractor Osborne, it will form a new focal point to the 54-acre campus, with views over Richmond Park and towards central London.

Dr Ghazwa Alwani-Starr, Director of Estates and Campus Services at Roehampton, said: “For many years, when our students and visitors arrived on campus, the first thing they saw was an uninspiring car park. We really value the collegiate, community feel which the University has created; this space was perfect for development so we’re building a new home for nearly 400 people in the very heart of our grounds, immediately putting students’ lives and the campus experience at the forefront of their time with us.”

From luxury living quarters to chilled-out study zones, functional spaces designed with today’s students in mind are helping UK universities stay ahead of the game. 

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