New academic developments are always challenging, with the movement of a large body of people providing numerous logistical scenarios to consider. Add to that the onus on institutions to reach net zero and achieve a demonstrable level of sustainability and the race to keep up with technological developments – a need accentuated by the pandemic – and you have a melting point of competing concerns to negotiate.
Below we profile four large-scale university developments that are facing up to the future in various innovative ways.
The University of Gloucestershire, new city campus
Based on the site of a former Debenhams store, the University of Gloucestershire’s new city campus is hoping to welcome its first staff and students – mainly from the School of Health and Social Care – from September 2023.
The developments include learning and practical teaching spaces equipped with the latest technology, a university library, Student Helpzones, a dedicated faith space, a large lecture theatre (acting as a conferencing and exhibition space) and a Student Union HQ.
The Student’s Union and staff and students from Nursing and Allied Health, and Education and Humanities, who will be based in the new city campus, have been among the first to be consulted in design matters.
“It’s vital that the views of our students and staff shape our new facilities and our wider estates strategy,” says Dr Nigel Wichall, director of estates at the University of Gloucestershire. “From the technology and equipment we select to the look and feel of our teaching and social spaces, sustainability and flexibility of use will be key, as will creating spaces that facilitate collaboration.”
Wichall says the university will also engage with employers to ensure that the teaching and learning spaces will help students “gain the practical experience they need to build successful careers when they graduate, including providing access to the latest technology”.
The project, carried out by ADP Architects, has emphasised sustainability and secured £3.3m from the Salix Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme to replace 25-year-old gas boilers with electric air source heat pumps – saving 383 tonnes of CO2 every year through low-carbon heating.
Funds will also be used to improve insulation for external walls, and the existing windows will be replaced with double-glazed units that bring more light in but remain sympathetic to the original art deco design of the building.
Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) ‘Living Lab’ public science centre and teaching building
The latest planning phase for an interactive public science centre at the Peterborough campus of ARU was given the go-ahead in February.
‘Living Lab’ – a publicly accessible science centre designed to stimulate and inspire more people into STEM sectors, including through the university’s curriculum and courses – will commence at the start of the 2024 academic year.
The venture, part of the third phase of ARU Peterborough (a partnership between the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Peterborough City Council and Anglia Ruskin University) is intended to be similar in style to an interactive science museum but more ambitious in terms of community impact, broadening Peterborough’s cultural offering by creating a distinct ‘University Quarter’. Incorporated into a new teaching building, the ‘Living Lab’ is intended to provide a window into the city’s net zero carbon future and will host events, exhibitions and flexible learning (including festivals of ideas, immersive displays, forums and evening classes).
Among those who will benefit from the £28m project (which includes £20m from the government’s Levelling Up Fund) are 1,700 students studying in STEM areas, part of addressing regional skills deficits and enabling economic recovery.
The project remains at the early stages of design, but consideration is already being given to integrating flexible lab spaces that can accommodate a range of subjects and adapt to changes in those subjects in the future. Meanwhile, increased floor-to-ceiling height is proposed to future-proof the venture.
The building will be net zero itself, and, hopes Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Dr Nik Johnson, play its part more actively too: “With the challenges we have around climate change and net zero carbon, and the vast opportunities of new technologies manufacturing, digital, agri-tech and life sciences to name a few, the ‘Living Lab’ will show us what the future will look like.”
Lancaster University’s School of Engineering
Construction is under way to expand Lancaster University’s engineering department into a School of Engineering, a facility of over 2,900m² spanning three floors and comprising specialist teaching spaces and dedicated laboratories including a distillation column, material characterisation laboratory and 3D lecture theatre.
Led by John Turner Construction Group and expected to be complete in summer 2023, the space will support teaching and research in many areas such as novel materials, efficient electronic devices and systems, wind and marine energy, optimised control and machine learning, digital and additive manufacturing, and nuclear, chemical and electronic engineering.
“The laboratories in the new engineering building have been planned with a flexible, reconfigurable infrastructure and large spaces to be future-proofed for evolving engineering teaching technology,” explains Claudio Paoloni, head of engineering at Lancaster University.
A long-term strategic expansion plan, fostering new teaching methodologies and cutting-edge research, will offer new staff development opportunities in terms of laboratory space and facilities from traditional hands-on to 3D and virtual experiences. One feature of this is a 300m² reconfigurable mechanical engineering laboratory equipped with movable benches and workstations.
“The underlying concept that inspired the new School of Engineering is the interdisciplinary trend of engineering, to build on a global interconnection of expertise for a sustainable and low-carbon future,” says Paolini.
The University of Derby’s Academic and Enterprise Zones
To support the regeneration of the city, the University of Derby intends to create two “distinct but linked” areas in the city – an Academic Zone – including the new Derby Business School, Student Union facilities and student residences – and an Enterprise Zone, comprising commercial lettable and business start-up/grow-on space, as well as provision for retail, entertainment and student residential space.
The ‘Masterplan’, led by Matthew Montague Architects, is to roll out over three phases, with the Business School in the first wave. It is set to open in 2024 and become a study base for over 6,000 students by 2030.
“The new Business School will provide the facilities and infrastructure for our staff to be able to deliver a world-class student experience, through a mix of inclusive teaching models, state-of-the-art technology, research-informed content, and industry-focused approaches,” says Prof Kamil Omoteso, pro-vice-chancellor dean of the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences at the University of Derby.
“The co-location of academic staff, researchers, external partners, business support services, and our Business School students within the new Business School, will help foster long-lasting partnerships and collaborations with internal colleagues, external partners and visitors. The new Academic and Enterprise Zones will attract not just the best business students, but scholars creating an ecosystem attracting the regional business community entrepreneurs and start-ups to Derby,” Omoteso adds.
Speaking specifically on the future-proofing of the building, Cora Kwiatkowski, head of universities at Stride Treglown, said: “With the approach to teaching and learning continually evolving, and the university offering a mix of on-campus and online options, we have designed Derby Business School not only with an accessible physical presence that fits the technological needs of all building users but also a strong virtual presence to enhance the experience of those wishing to engage with the university remotely.”
Measures to ensure this include: high-speed wireless internet and charging points throughout the building; varied, flexible teaching and learning spaces with large spans and movable furniture, and a large, multi-functional atrium for which, Kwiatkowski says, the most important function is “to enable collaboration and chance meetings between students, staff and businesses.”
In the melee of concerns addressed by the above ventures, one thing is clear – an accent on collaboration. The message we often hear from research and development departments is how important it is for academics to get out of their ‘silos’ in order to create and innovate. Many of the aspects above are the literal embodiment of this sentiment – flexible and collaborative spaces, whether they are workstations, foyers or atriums. Both intentional and accidental meetings of minds are being factored in, supported by spaces where virtual technologies can be employed alongside in-person and traditional teaching and learning methods. The concept of a single-use space has left the building.