Designed by Edward Cullinan Architects, it is one of the most eye-catching collections of higher education buildings in the UK. What is more, it looks like making the grade as an Egan demonstration project.
The campus runs along the Royal Albert Dock, a 2 km length of water that, even on a fine day, can be whipped up into sizeable waves. With no surrounding features to relate to, the buildings create a strong yet protective environment.
The ingredients of Cullinan’s environment include vibrant blue, green, yellow and terracotta colours on plain rendered walls. Added to these are the dynamic forms of drum-shaped halls of residence with butterfly roofs and repeated northlight roofs with wave-shaped aluminium eaves.
The academic blocks extend to sharp points that cantilever over a pedestrian piazza. These also help protect the piazza from strong winds.
Yet beneath its glamorous exterior, the first phase of the campus has been built as a demonstration project for the Egan principle of value for money. The 19 000 m2 of academic space, plus 384 student bedrooms, were built for only £33m. Design-and-build contractor Tarmac (now Carillion) reduced the contract sum by value engineering from a tender price of £36m, partly by treating contaminated soil by binding it in situ with a lime and cement slurry.
The project was completed in time for the start of the academic year this week, despite Tarmac using three months of the 18-month programme for the value-engineering exercise. The buildings should also be cheap to run, as Termodeck hollow-core concrete floors distribute fresh air.
Derek Fowlie, the university’s estates director, thinks the project team has passed the Egan test “in part”. He says: “The costs are very close to the contracted sum and we moved in as scheduled. But on zero defects, it’s more difficult to judge.”
The project team included Turner & Townsend as project manager, Whitby Bird & Partners as structural engineer, Fulcrum Consulting as services engineer, Gardiner & Theobald as QS and GMW as contractor’s architect.