UWE Faculty of Engineering and Design

Winner of Social Infrastructure Project of the Year and overall Project of the Year at the British Construction Industry Awards 2021, this innovative learning space caters for every aspect of UWE's vision for a state-of-the-art engineering faculty.

UWE Faculty of Engineering - credit John Seaman Photography

Working collaboratively with architects, AHR, main contractor, BAM, and cost consultant Mace (the award-winning project team behind the UKHO headquarters), along with project management from Capita, Hydrock delivered full end-to-end multidisciplinary engineering services from RIBA Stages 1 to 7 for this new 8,500 sq m engineering faculty building which will accommodate 1,600 students.

Our services included MEP, structural engineering, fire engineering, acoustics, transport planning, soft landings and commissioning management, post-occupancy evaluation, and energy and sustainability studies.

UWE (University of the West of England) is a fast-growing and highly-regarded university and research establishment, ranked inside the top 30 of UK universities in the Times Higher Education ‘Table of Tables’ in 2020. Our brief was to deliver state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities that brought engineering to the centre of the university’s campus, creating an eye-catching feature building clad in Corten steel giving it a striking natural rust finish.

Three storeys of laboratories and teaching spaces surround a central atrium - a large, open space flooded with natural daylight. As a communal space, it tiers upwards and outwards from a ground floor platform, featuring multiple interactive spaces for sitting and collaborating. For our acoustic engineers, the atrium design required careful modelling to establish the quantity and distribution of sound absorption.

Our structural engineers designed the building’s steel frame, including a northlight roof comprising of cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels supported on exposed steel A-frames (to create the roof pitches), in turn bearing onto twin 18-metre-long glulam beams, supported by exposed UC steel columns.

Engineering solutions

The client required a bespoke building that could cater for a diverse range of engineering subjects. Specific areas required very different physical properties, with each teaching space having a unique purpose that needed a bespoke design solution.

The building was designed from the outset to allow for the physical nature of different engineering subjects, with ‘heavier’, material-based engineering on the ground floor, moving up through ‘lighter’ and cleaner engineering forms (for example, hydraulics, acoustic and electrical) on each of the three floors.

More traditional ‘heavy’ engineering subjects such as structural engineering, construction material, mechanical workshops and engine test cells require large spaces that are highly serviced and are typically loud and dirty due to the machinery and processes required. These testing spaces needed to be designed in such a way as to absorb vibrational impact and minimise disturbance to other teaching spaces nearby, achieved through a reinforced concrete ‘floating slab’ mounted on special acoustic bearing pads at regular spacings.

A 1.2m thick reinforced concrete strong wall and strong floor, capable of withstanding 150t, has been designed to enable bespoke testing of construction material and aircraft components. Bespoke anchors embedded within the strong wall and strong floor and a 2.5t lifting crane have also been designed to meet the university testing requirements.

As many of these ground floor engineering workrooms generate high levels of noise, a key challenge for our acoustic engineers was to determine the level of sound insulation necessary in order to achieve acceptable internal noise levels in the adjoining rooms during the operation of equipment. Where necessary, a pragmatic approach between practical design and acoustics standards was reached.

On the floors above this, high-tech electronics labs, modelling and simulation suites and mechatronics labs with robotic arms had different requirements again, needing solutions to the equipment’s high heat gains and sensitivity to noise and vibration. A thermo-fluids lab required floating power sockets mounted from the ceiling to counteract any potential issues from regular water simulations, while a programming laboratory features a large robotic arm, which is very sensitive to the room’s doors opening and shutting.

We used precast concrete planks spanning up to 12m to create large, open floor spaces that allow for flexible arrangement of teaching spaces. Designing these concrete planks to sit on a bottom plate welded to a steel beam greatly reduced the structural depth compared to more traditional methods. This also provides an exposed flat soffit that is hugely beneficial to service distribution and achieved the visual look desired by the architect. Our structural engineers also helped the contractor to reduce the construction program by using various off site manufactured precast elements such as ground beams, shear walls, floor planks and retaining walls.

Ensuring each space had the particular services required and did not cause interference to adjacent teaching and learning spaces was a particular challenge. Hydrock’s input into the client engagement process was a key part of the project’s success. Multiple workshops were required with each team of lecturers and technicians to define the particular requirements of each space. This interactive process ensured that all M&E requirements were identified and provided.

Our fire team provided a full liaison with the approving authorities and stakeholders within the University to guarantee that all aspects of the fire safety design were aligned with the desired aesthetic and functional objectives of the scheme.

Our team developed innovative and robust fire safety solutions and carried out fire engineering analyses such as Monte Carlo and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) assessment modelling.

Carbon targets

As an institution, UWE have set themselves ambitious targets to reduce carbon by 2030, and as part of this project, we delivered the energy and sustainability strategy for this new building.

This BREEAM Excellent rated building was designed to meet those targets. Along with adding rainwater collection facilities, a significant solar panel array and a CHP District Heating Network connection, our design focused on making the life cycle of the building as efficient as possible, helping to add long-term value.

Low carbon design principles, including natural ventilation and passive cooling, were adopted from the start of the design process to minimize the building’s carbon emissions in line with the university’s ambitious carbon reduction targets.

We exceeded our own targets and expectations for energy and carbon reduction on this project, with regulated energy use. Our MEP engineers were able to achieve a very low A rated EPC value, which will assist UWE in reaching their target of a DEC rating of ‘B’.

The facility has been designed as a ‘Smart Building’, allowing rooms to be controlled individually through the building management system. CO2 levels are monitored, with window and louvre vents opening automatically to draw fresh air into the naturally ventilated areas as demand requires.

This stunning low energy building provides a state-of-the art and inclusive engineering faculty, that will assist UWE in its aim of encouraging greater diversity within engineering as a whole.

Our engineers ensured that the building services design was ready for its 2020 open date, but also that it would be adaptable and flexible to future, as yet unknown, needs of the building. Engineering will evolve over the coming years and decades and the building needed to be future proofed to allow it to change to these new requirements.

In October 2021, UWE Engineering Building was awarded Social Infrastructure Project of the Year and overall Project of the Year at the BCIA awards - Hydrock's third consecutive win.

Images courtesy of John Seaman Photography.