On the crest of a wave

The £19million Marine Building at Plymouth University features a world-leading hydrodynamics laboratory

Occupying a prime location, Plymouth University’s new state-of-the-art Marine Building acts as a symbol of the university’s eminence in marine sciences, encouraging a dialogue between the city, its academic institutions and the wider world. Designed by Burwell Deakins Architects and built to provide a range of flexible research facilities, work and educational spaces, the new building also includes a world-class hydrodynamics facility and a dedicated business innovation centre for marine renewable technology.

Professor Wendy Purcell, the university vice-chancellor, says: ‘It’s a landmark development for the university, the city and the region, and provides a suite of research and teaching facilities to support our world-class academic community and enrich the student experience.

“The equipment, technical and research expertise we have here will catalyse the marine and maritime sectors, and help attract leading researchers and commercial clients.’

The Coastal Ocean and Sediment Transport (COaST) laboratories form the centre-piece of the scheme, housing a number of wave tanks and flumes in which academics, scientists and engineers can test devices within simulated wave, current and wind conditions. The main tank will be capable of creating waves more than a metre high for research activities, all of which will be clearly visible to the public from the pedestrian spaces at the base of the building. The decision to locate the principal functions of the building at pedestrian level works in accordance with Burwell Deakins Architects’ overall strategy for Plymouth University, which encourages a discourse between the building and the streetscape to enliven the campus landscape.

The new school has been located at the heart of the South West Marine Energy Park, an international focal point for leading marine teaching and research. The civic positioning of the building as a ‘public face’ for the university is reinforced through the quality of the design and innovative use of locally sourced materials, such as the Plymouth limestone ashlar walling which supports the main colonnade.

Burwell Deakins Architects’ approach to sustainability, which prioritises the use of passive measures above expensive technologies, resulted in the construction of a highly efficient deep-plan building with natural lighting and ventilation. The scheme’s careful orientation and well-insulated envelopes maximises the environmental performance of the design, as recognised by the building’s BREEAM rating of ‘excellent’.

Solar shading is provided on the south elevation by a series of three-storey solar fins and a high-performance curtain wall system, which utilises two sets of parallel opening elements at each floor level. The upper set of openers is controlled by a building management system, with opening lights allowing the cooling of the exposed concrete soffits at night, whilst the lower set is manually operated to provide occupant comfort at desk level. This arrangement, in combination with internal floor voids and the high levels of thermal stability intrinsic to the building’s skin and structure, allow the upper levels of the Marine Building to remain naturally ventilated and cooled.

Additional sustainability features include a set of photovoltaics and a rainwater harvesting system. In support of the campus’s overall energy strategy, power and heating are drawn from the university’s local combined heat power plant, allowing the building to act as a valve between Plymouth University’s CHP network and the city beyond.

Informed by Burwell Deakins Architects’ research into the future of academic teaching spaces, the new educational facilities can be easily adapted to provide both open-plan or cellular work spaces, to allow for a mixture of didactic and collaborative teaching methods. The upper floors have also been fitted out with an open-plan research space and a full ‘ship simulator’ suite. 


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