The government wants 50% of 18-30-year-olds to be educated to degree level by 2010, and expects universities to compete in international research markets. So what buildings are required to help meet these objectives? In its latest cost model, Davis Langdon & Everest examines the 21st-century university building

IntrductionMany universities want buildings that provide a physical representation of academic and social ideals, and as a result they tend to be good patrons of architecture. The early 21st century is no exception, and institutions have commissioned some fine buildings using combinations of public and private finance. The UK higher education sector performs highly, but often achieves excellence in a culture of poverty.
The comparatively strong performance is demonstrated by low drop-out rates from taught courses, and by the quantity of publications and citations generated from research projects. This has been achieved against a backdrop of rapid expansion, with student numbers increasing 65% to 2 million since 1989, and research income increasing 70%.
This growth has been met by only a 26% increase in floor area, and a decrease in funding per student of 37%.
University estates are therefore being worked harder than ever before. Issues of flexibility and the ability to accommodate change are becoming important as new methods of teaching and research are introduced.

ProcurementProcurement of university buildings involves reconciling the objectives of the academic end user with those of the university’s estates, business development and finance departments. The end user has specific functional and design criteria; the estates team will be concerned about long-term estate management strategies, running costs and the reuse of vacated space; and the finance team will need to closely control capital expenditure. Robust assessments of need and option appraisals are important in achieving a balance between these competing interest groups.
The success of a university’s internal procurement strategy and project management is vital to the success of the building. The guide, Procurement Guidelines for High Education: Building and Engineering Projects, published by umbrella body Universities UK in 1997, was produced to encourage a managed, stage-by-stage approach to procurement. It stresses clear project definition, strong project leadership and clearly defined roles, adequate internal resourcing, and the continued ownership of the project by the end user.
In university projects, the achievement of a cost, time and quality balance is particularly difficult, as different aspects will be important to different elements of the client body. In an effort to balance quality, cost and time certainty, develop-and-construct procurement routes are becoming popular as a means of securing a high-quality concept design while transferring responsibility for cost and time delivery to the contractor. Some clients will novate the design team to the contractor, further transferring risk and potentially reducing overall professional fees. However, control of detailing and the quality of site work may be reduced. Accordingly, traditional procurement and design-and-build are common in instances where good build quality or a particularly high degree of cost certainty is required.
Additional innovation is being introduced into the procurement processes, including whole-life costing, which is used to understand the revenue implications of projects at an early stage, and closer working with contractors, using two-stage tendering for example, to obtain early input into design and specialist procurement. Although two-stage tendering has benefits of reduced overall programme duration and greater contractor involvement, difficulties can be experienced in maintaining price competition in the selection of subcontractors and the transfer of design responsibility. Other difficulties that can be experienced by universities, particularly when located in smaller cities, include potential limitations on the number of contractors available that have the technical and financial capability to meet the project objectives.
PFI is also an option for universities, particularly for student accommodation, although the availability of capital funds through funding council grants and other sources means that universities are less reliant on PFI than the education and health sectors.

Characteristics of university buildingsUniversities are distinctive and complex communities of academics, researchers, teachers and students who benefit from close interaction and shared access to costly and resource-intensive facilities such as libraries or research laboratories. Buildings commissioned for universities need to support the work undertaken within them and provide opportunities for the individual and group work, contemplation and socialising that are central to the university experience for students and staff. This increasingly involves providing space that is sufficiently flexible to support learning based on lectures, group work and individuals or the specialist facilities required in a laboratory, design studio or library.
The role of university buildings extends well beyond that of providing work space. University clients have recognised the importance of the overall setting of buildings in their campus or quarters, and the significant impact that good-quality architecture can have on the general environment and the perception of the university. Increasingly, good-quality buildings are important in attracting students, academic staff and research grants. The joint infrastructure fund (JIF) and the scientific research infrastructure fund (SRIF) funds, for example, have been vital in securing the UK’s competitive position in international scientific research, and high-quality new facilities for new universities such as Thames Valley, Sunderland and East London have made a significant contribution to the esteem in which they are held.
Universities are able to commission high-quality buildings because of the following factors:

  • They are largely autonomous and can set their own criteria.
  • Most university buildings are one-off commissions that require a carefully considered response to an end user’s brief.
  • Universities potentially have access to additional funds to supplement central government grants to secure the quality of building they require. These sources include borrowings, third-party funding bodies and private donors.
  • The brief is typically developed by the end users, in conjunction with the estates and finance team.
  • As owner–occupiers, universities will consider in detail the impact of the building on the remainder of the estate and on operating costs during the planning stage.

Trends in university developmentThere are a number of significant developments in university-based teaching and research that will have an effect on new buildings and the existing estate. These include:


  • Widening participation. Government policy is to provide places for half of 18-30-year-olds by 2010. The introduction of 300,000 new students, a 15% increase, will not only put pressure on existing capacity, but will also encourage changes in course delivery, using group- and screen-based learning that, in particular, will place pressure on general teaching space and learning resource centres.
  • Multidisciplinary research. Academic research in science and humanities is being undertaken by multidisciplinary teams rather than isolated individuals, requiring buildings to accommodate previously scattered researchers and creating opportunities to raise the institution’s profile. Graduate school buildings such as Cambridge University’s Centre for Mathematical Sciences are designed to very high standards to attract researchers and funding. A feature of these is the variety of spaces provided to support group and individual working, and the amount of space devoted to encouraging interaction such as cafes and other public areas.
  • Creative arts. The growth of the new media has led to a similar expansion in the delivery of practice-based arts courses. A high proportion of the teaching of these courses is project-based, which requires specially equipped workshops and studios. This is expensive to build and maintain and is usually too specialised to be used by other disciplines. As science has been given such priority, little funding is available; capital funds to provide modern facilities are very limited.
  • Student-centred learning. This requires students to use their own initiative to achieve good educational outcomes, primarily through project work, and has become more common as student numbers increase. Although lectures continue to be delivered, tutorials have largely been dropped in favour of group work. Space implications of student-centred learning include requirements for more PCs for online teaching materials, plus space for group and project work.
  • Information and communications technology. ICT has become increasingly important in higher education as a wider range of source material is delivered online, and universities are expected to prepare students for their future working environments. Although an e-university is being developed, the costs of online material are high, and it is unlikely that direct teaching will be replaced by online sources in the near future. The principal problems associated with the increase in use of IT are the costs of bandwidth, installing IT networks in existing buildings and the 100% increase in desk space for students using PCs rather than conventional research material.
  • Cost breakdownThe cost breakdown above is based on a self-contained teaching and research building for a humanities department, developed in a constricted, brownfield urban site. The building has a gross internal floor area of 4400 m² in a six-storey building, including a basement. The development includes lecture theatres, seminar rooms and cellular space for academics and researchers. The scheme has a concrete frame with exposed slabs and a masonry external wall to match surrounding buildings. Roofs are a combination of zinc sheet and asphalt with generous roof lighting. Because of its location on a constricted urban site, the scheme features mechanical ventilation and cooling.
  • Rates in the model are current at fourth quarter 2002, based on a competitive lump-sum tender and an outer London location. The overall cost is inclusive of preliminaries, fixed furniture and fittings and contingencies. Demolitions and site preparation, loose furniture and fittings, external works and services, professional fees and VAT are excluded. Additional allowances for the implications of the revised Part L are also excluded, and would add approximately 2-3% to the cost of the development.
  • Rates in the model may need to be adjusted to take account of specification, site conditions, procurement route, programme and location. Details of location factors are given in the table, right.
  • The existing university stateThere are 130 higher education institutions in the UK, with an estate of 18 million m2 and a total insured value of £26bn. Nearly 50% of the buildings date from the 1960s and 1970s and many are approaching the end of their economic and practical life. While £4bn has been invested in university infrastructure over the past 10-12 years, much of this has been project-focused, often for the development of scientific research buildings rather than the improvement of the existing estate.
  • As per capita revenues have been squeezed, universities have not been able to invest in maintenance and replacement. The latest condition survey available, based on 1999/2000 data, estimates that 36% of the estate in England will require repair or replacement within three years. The total cost of the backlog in UK-wide institutional infrastructure is estimated to be £8bn, of which £4.6bn is related to teaching space rather than research or student accommodation.
  • The problems associated with the existing estate include:
  • Constraints on campus development. Many campuses have limited space for expansion, and for some 1960s universities, the potential for listing could further limit development options.
  • Building condition. Universities are having to fund works in connection with legislative change, including Health and Safety requirements and disabled access. Implementing the Disability Discrimination Act, for example, will cost £200m in England alone.
  • Configuration of space. A significant problem is the need to remodel cellular offices to provide sufficient, appropriate learning and social space to meet the needs of contemporary teaching methods. In more specialist areas such as teaching laboratories for science, languages and IT, reconfiguration is required to deal with larger numbers of students and new technology.
  • Use of space. Many room-improvement projects are targeted at increasing the use of space, usually used for 20-30% of the year. Contemporary teaching methods result in students using a wide range of spaces for learning as well as conventional classrooms. Refurbishment projects need to support this trend by providing more drop-in space for groups and individuals.
  • Up-to-date equipment. Graduates need to be familiar with the latest IT and equipment in order to develop the required skills.
  • Increasing participation. Universities are responding to widening participation and lifelong learning by providing facilities such as crèches that are required by new groups of students.
  • FundingUniversities in the UK receive most of their income from the public sector. The total annual income of universities and colleges in 1999–2000 totalled £10.5bn, of which 60% came from public funds, either from funding councils, tuition fees or income from research grants and contracts. The remaining 40% was derived from private sources including research income, fees from overseas students, revenue from on-campus services and charitable donations.
  • Most of the public funds are administered by higher education funding councils such as HEFCE in England. Its total budget in 2002/3 is £5.08bn, of which £302m is allocated to capital projects.
  • Funding for the £4bn of investment in university capital projects in the UK over the past 10-12 years has come from a range of sources, including specific departmental funding for backlog maintenance, poor estates improvement, library development and disabled access.
  • The two largest capital programmes, the JIF and the SRIF, have involved joint funding initiatives by the funding councils, the Office of Science and Technology and the Wellcome Trust. This has pumped a total of £1.75bn into scientific research facilities.
  • Additional capital funds are secured from internal resources, private benefactors and joint ventures with the public and private sector. Typically public sector capital investment equates to 25% of total expenditure, although this has risen to 50% during the JIF/SRIF programme.
  • SustainabilityUniversity clients have been at the leading edge of commissioning sustainable buildings for the past 10 years. The drivers behind the adoption of green principles relate not only to running costs, although this is increasingly important as funding is squeezed, but also to the enhancement of the reputation of universities and the practical demonstration of sustainability as part of a university education.
  • Common features in new low-energy buildings include:
  • Shallow floorplates to help natural ventilation
  • Use of thermal mass, including provision of night cooling with exposed concrete slabs and automatic vents
  • High levels of insulation and airtightness to control heat loss
  • Generous floor-to-ceiling heights to help natural ventilation and natural lighting
  • Use of shading to control direct solar gain
  • Sophisticated building management systems and use of variable speed drives on mechanical ventilation and cooling systems to minimise energy consumption.

Although naturally ventilated university buildings typically use only 50% of the energy of typical academic buildings, it is not always possible to design schemes that can function without mechanical systems. In these cases, mixed-mode approaches, providing ventilation or cooling to internal spaces, or cycling internal mechanical ventilation depending on season and load can be used – although there are capital cost premiums associated with the installation of multiple systems.