The University of Hertfordshire is no stranger to innovation, as its de Havilland campus demonstrates.

In this project review, architect RMJM and cost consultant Davis Langdon & Everest explain how pioneering procurement went hand-in-hand with exemplary academic architecture to develop a £120m campus in just four years

Key points

Campus combining academic, residential and sports buildings for University of Hertfordshire

Hatfield Business Park

Development features

  • £120m development cost
  • One of largest campus single-phase development projects in the UK for 50 years
  • Campus and sports village open to local community

Procurement features

  • Public–private partnership with Arlington Securities for the academic buildings serving 4000 students
  • Private finance initiative with Carillion and Royal Bank of Scotland for the 1600-bed student residences and sports village
  • Four-year development period from masterplan to completion
  • Buildings delivered on budget and on time

Design features

  • Campus masterplan arranged around central green
  • Five academic buildings linked by 100 m enclosed concourse

Cost features

  • Combined unit cost of £1419/m2 for academic buildings, 8.3% below industry benchmark
  • Public–private partnership with Arlington Securities for the academic buildings serving

The client and its vision
In 1948, when Hatfield Technical College opened its £1m buildings at College Lane in Hatfield, it was hailed as setting new standards for modern vocational education. Half a century later, this trailblazing tradition is continued by the college’s successor, the University of Hertfordshire, which provides a rich learning environment for a diverse community of 20,000 students.

New methods of procuring and developing university accommodation are pioneered at the university’s new £120m de Havilland campus in Hatfield. Existing sites at Watford and Hatfield were sold off, and the faculty of humanities and education, along with the business school, were relocated to the new campus. A learning resource centre and range of shared teaching facilities were added to the mix.

What makes the development striking is that the new academic facilities serving 4000 students, along with living accommodation for 1600 students, social facilities and a £15m sports village, have all been developed in a single phase. This makes it one of the largest university developments since the Second World War.

The client’s vision was of an integrated, efficient and distinctive campus serving the needs of students and accessible to the surrounding community.

The campus took four years to develop and opened to students at the start of the current academic year. Its success is reflected in increased student interest in the university, with applications to the business school jumping by 52% this year alone. At the same time, the campus has acted as a catalyst for major regeneration of the post-war new town of Hatfield.

The former 12 ha British Aerospace site is one of the largest brownfield sites in southern England. It forms a primary component of Arlington’s 322 ha Hatfield aerodrome site, which is being converted to a country park and a mix of business, education, amenity and residential uses. A vital part of the RMJM’s masterplan was to ensure that the campus had clear and logical links to adjacent on-going developments and the university’s existing campus at College Lane lying 10 minutes’ walk to the east.

Key elements of the masterplan included:

  • A pedestrian route through the centre of the campus linking it to the new district centre and Ellenbrook country park
  • A green space at the heart of the campus
  • Formal entrance square and social forum space
  • Gateways and approaches to the site
  • Sensitivity to the surrounding Countryside, existing woodland and local community.

Procurement and development
An ingenious hybrid form of procuring, developing and funding the university’s £120m campus was undertaken. These days, government funding is not sufficient to support a modern dynamic university. So at Hatfield, the university adopted a PFI with a capital value of £60m. The rest of the development was funded by a combination of selling off assets and a £7m grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The university’s original intention was to find a suitable site and funding for the whole project through PFI, and this was advertised through the Official Journal of the European Union in December 1998. From the responses received, it became apparent that only one site was suitable, the former 12 ha de Havilland aircraft factory lying at the south-western edge of the town that belonged to British Aerospace and was managed by Arlington Securities. The university planned to develop its accommodation on 7.5 ha of the site, with the other 4.5 ha earmarked for playing fields.

It was decided to split the development into two separate projects:

  • The academic buildings would be developed by Arlington, which owns, developed and manages the adjacent Hatfield Business Park;
  • The student residences, refectory and sports facilities would be procured by means of a PFI.

Academic buildings
The academic buildings were developed by Arlington Securities as a PPP that has been designated by the Higher Education Funding Council for England as a major pathfinder project. In conjunction with the university, Arlington appointed the professional team led by architect RMJM and went on to manage the design-and-build process and on-time delivery of the completed buildings. Carillion Building was contracted by Arlington to design and construct the buildings.

This novel arrangement meant that, while the university remained the ultimate client throughout, the design team reported to three different clients during the project:

  • to the university during the masterplanning period
  • to Arlington during scheme design and negotiation of the development agreement
  • to Carillion during the construction period.

Fuller Peiser was appointed the university’s client representative while the masterplan was being drawn up, and Turner & Townsend represented the client thereafter.

Student accommodation
The PFI contract for the student accommodation, sports facilities and related external works was awarded to Carillion in partnership with the Royal Bank of Scotland. It is the first PFI project in the higher education sector to be financed by a project bond, with limited risks that was attractive to pension fund investors. The buildings were designed by architect Austin-Smith:Lord, built by Carillion Building Special Projects and will be maintained and managed over the 30-year concession period by Carillion Services.

Architectural design
The academic buildings take the form of cluster of five wings, all linked by a covered concourse. A four-storey pair of the these wings are linked and house the departments of humanities and education in one wing and the business school in the other. The two blocks have 15 m deep floorplates, which provide flexible teaching spaces while making best use of natural ventilation and daylight. Shared teaching facilities and lectures theatres nestle between the two wings, where they are separated by two 16 m high atriums incorporating all vertical circulation cores and spaces for social interaction. Energy efficiency is promoted by high thermal insulation and an airtight building enclosure.

Learning resource centre
The learning resource centre likewise takes the form of two linked wings, though only three storeys in height. The 7500 m2building provides more than 1100 study spaces and is open to students 24 hours a day. With its 16 m high fully glazed atrium overlooking the main entrance to the campus, the building acts as a focal point, promotes the university’s identity and provides a highly visible backdrop of 24-hour activity.

The centre provides a fully integrated learning environment through its multimedia study facility with resourcing, broadcasting and editing suites, its offices for 70 staff as well as its primary book and study space.

The linking concourse 100 m long is conceived as a covered shelter between all the academic buildings on the campus. As such, it serves as a key element on this exposed site and encourages social interaction between staff, students and visitors. Its glazed northern flank also overlooks the central green of the campus.

A 460-seat multipurpose auditorium makes up the fifth academic wing, which projects from the opposite side of the concourse to the other four wings. Rounded in form and clad in stainless steel, it resembles an inverted metal bowl. As it is capable of hosting a wide range of events from lectures and conferences to music, dance, film and theatre, the auditorium is fundamental to the university’s campaign to promote closer links with the community.

Cost analysis of academic buildings
The combined unit cost for all the academic buildings, at £1419/m2, is some 8.3% below the average benchmark cost for a mixed university development of £1548/m2. The stand-alone auditorium, which is a rare hybrid between a lecture hall and a performing arts theatre, cost £3080/m2 or £9040 per seat. These rates at fourth quarter 2003 prices are based on a fixed competitive lump-sum, design-and-build tender. They include fixed furniture and external works, but not professional fees and VAT.

Changes to the design proposed by the University of Hertfordshire were managed by means of a change management protocol – a variation of the American change order system that involved the developer, contractor, quantity surveyor and other consultants and subcontractors.

Despite its elaborate nature, this change protocol worked well for the project and ensured accurate cost control. A dedicated team of individuals, nicknamed the ECO champions after the employer’s change order, ensured the system worked smoothly within the timescales of the protocol. As a result, the project’s final account was agreed at the time of practical completion, a rare achievement for such a large complex project with so many participants.

Principal subcontractors

carpentry and joinery Atlantic Joinery
curtain walling Dane Architectural Systems
insulated render Harrison Render Systems
concrete frame JJ Cafferkey
structural steelwork Mifflin Construction
zinc roofing NDM
lifts Kone
solar shading Levolux
partitioning Pieri Interiors
landscaping Willerby