UWE's £7.5m flagship sustainable building open for business

Issue date: 23 September 2010

Project team pictured in new R Block extension A new flagship sustainable building at the University of the West of England, the R block studios extension, opens for business on Monday 27 September. The new extension will primarily be used by architecture and product design students but also includes teaching and social spaces for common use by all at UWE.

This state of the art building mirrors the form of the existing Architecture building but sustainable building practice has come on leaps and bounds since 2002 when the original building was completed.

The extension has achieved a BREEAM rating of 'excellent' in recognition of its overall environmental performance – including a heating system fuelled by bio-fuel made from recycled cooking oil and ground coupled cooling.

The project was managed by UWE Facilities, and an integrated collaborative approach was adopted to provide co-ordination between the Faculty of Environment and Technology, the University, consultant design teams and the principal contractor Willmott Dixon. The project team was led by Doug Smith and Phil Lawrence from Facilities.

The Faculty was involved from the outset as part of the design team. Huw Dobson, the Faculty Project Co-ordinator, said, “One of the main challenges was to deliver a building that serves the Faculty's requirement to bring together the disciplines of product design and architecture under one roof, that provides high quality postgraduate teaching accommodation and at the same time creates a keynote building for the University in pursuance of its business needs for the future.”

Phil Lawrence, UWE Facilities, said, “Of the many challenges faced throughout the project, the snow and minus degree temperatures experienced in January prevented the concreting, scheduled at this time, and added pressure to the contract programme. The use of sustainable innovative technologies also created technical challenges during the design and construction phases. The project was successful due to the dedication and commitment of all members of the project team. The building was delivered on time and on budget, which is a great achievement given the tight programme and uncertain financial pressures in the recession.”

Phil, a postgraduate of UWE, is justifiably proud of the building which represents his first opportunity to oversee a project of this size. The £7.5 million structure is a truly sustainable building with many ground breaking features. “It's great that we have already gained BREEAM recognition. The building may improve our standing in national sustainable leagues and we will be putting this building in for various awards, as we have made every effort to integrate many sustainable features.

“What is also quite special about this building is the input from professionals who are UWE alumni. Andrew Kingdon, the project architect with Stride Treglown trained at UWE as did John Cooke the Construction Manager with Willmott Dixon. We've even included Bisley mobile storage furniture 'Bite' based on an original design by UWE graduate Alex Forsyth.”

On the ground floor, there is a flexibly designed lecture theatre and five teaching spaces that can also be used for conferences and other events. All are equipped with the latest audio visual technology. On the first floor, in addition to various flexible and informal learning areas, the accommodation comprises design studios, an IT lab and an office for support staff. On the second floor there are postgraduate architecture studios, informal learning areas and a large open plan office for academic staff with adjacent meeting rooms.

The r2 café on the ground floor is a focus for the whole of the building. The attention to detail is apparent throughout the building. In the café the shutters incorporate a design that shows Bristol's floating harbour. A glazed panel reveals one of the straw bale insulation panels supplied by Modcell™, a Bristol based company founded by Craig White who is a part-time lecturer at UWE.

All materials have been carefully selected to ensure a high recycled material content throughout. The rain screen cladding, developed by Ibstock, and used for the first time on this building, has 93 per cent recycled content. The lecture theatre walls are constructed of straw bales for thermal and acoustic performance. The lecture theatre is cooled in summer (and partially warmed in winter) by fresh air drawn through pipes buried beneath the nearby lawn. The boiler uses biofuel from refined waste cooking oil.

A number of trees within the footprint of the building site were protected during construction, and the landscaping design which includes an area of wildflower planting, has greatly enhanced the ecology of the surroundings.

The waste produced from the construction work has been carefully managed, and a Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) performance of 21 per cent has been achieved, exceeding the targets set. 95 per cent of construction waste has been diverted from landfill.

Tod Burton, Associate Dean (FET), said, “The design of the building reflects the changing nature in the way our students learn. The design team has placed an emphasis on the social aspects of learning, successfully blurring the boundaries between the formal seminar room and the social space.”

Richard Parnaby, Professor of Architecture, said, “The building has been a hugely valuable resource in teaching architectural design, not only because of its varied and adaptable spaces but also for its value as a learning tool -- offering daily lessons in construction and sustainable design. The extension takes this further with its new kinds of space and alternative approaches to ventilation, cooling, heating and construction detailing. The arrival of product design students and staff offers new opportunities for collaboration and shared learning.”

John Rushforth, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said, “This building is inspirational and we're proud and delighted that the University has produced such successful alumni capable of achieving so much. It is a very important building to us, since as we develop the rest of the campus, we are looking to apply many of the lessons we have learnt here. The ground floor space is available to all areas of the University, so many people will have the opportunity to experience a building fit for the students of the twenty-first century which is a really uplifting place to study.”


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