University of Birmingham
teaching spaces and offices
A Signature Building
Situated on the university’s main campus, the new 12,676sq.m building supports the School of Engineering in its aim to position itself as a leader in the engineering sector in terms of the strength and quality of its teaching and research. Located on a key route from University Station into the heart of the campus, this signature building promotes engineering excellence and will enable the School to attract new students, enhance the student experience and attract the world’s best academics to increase its staff base from approximately 80 to 140 staff.
The building offers a variety of contemporary and flexible design and research spaces that act as an incubator for innovation and strengthens teaching and research partnerships. The building provides the increased spatial requirements of office, meeting and lab spaces resulting from the school’s projected growth. The arrangement of these spaces around a generous atrium containing flexible learning environments also enables greater collaboration between staff and students. 2,496sq.m are dedicated to research partnerships with the rail industry as part of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN).
The building comprises two interlocking forms set at 90 degrees to each other with the dual use expressed in the massing and external façade treatment. The upper storeys of the School of Engineering building cantilever out to the north, east and south over the UKRRIN massing to distinguish each form. By interlocking the two forms and slipping the UKRRIN massing underneath, the site footprint is minimised and provides additional space required for landscaping and servicing.
Visual and Tactile Expression
Given the ‘engineering’ focus of the building, an important aspect of the proposal was the visual and tactile expression of the materials and components of which it is constructed. The visual quality concrete frame is exposed such that the order of the structural solution is evident, and its thermal inertia contributes the passive environmental strategy. A central glazed atrium section dividing the east and west wings of the School of Engineering highlights the different building functions and signifies the entrance to the building. Extruded metal fins and an extended corten ledge creating a covered threshold between exterior and interior. Natural timber to elements – such as visual screens, doors and glazed screens, as well as floors and feature furniture adds warmth, texture and a connection to nature which supports a sense of well-being. The feature stair is constructed from timber to offer an inviting route and place between the split atrium levels. Fabrics, felt and woven textiles in acoustic rafts, soft furnishings and carpets offer softness and the opportunity to inject colour and pattern.
Throughout the scheme where possible, ventilation ductwork and containment are exposed in an organised and controlled way so that the engineering systems can be seen and understood, with the ready adaptability of unconcealed systems also being an advantage.
To better differentiate between the School of Engineering and UKRRIN entities of the build, it is intended to develop juxtaposing materiality for the external façades of the two elements. This is achieved by ensuring the external skin of both buildings contrast in texture, colour and module. Brick has been selected to form the external skin. This is a frequently used material within the campus with red brick often used on some of the university’s signature structures, with key details in a buff stone. By constructing this facility from a buff brick, the School of Engineering blends in with the surrounding buildings via its materiality, but sets itself apart with its divergent patina, while the colour references the accents of stone prevalent throughout the university.