Project Description:

This new building brings together three post-graduate departments, providing state-of-the-art laboratories for: optics, audio, electronic systems, photonics, robotics and network communications. Other facilities include academic offices, lecture theatre, breakout / support spaces, and a ‘Big Brother’ style domestic environment for longer-term experiments.

The project completes the range of buildings accessed from ‘Square 1’ podium of the 1960's campus, which is set in steeply sloping mature parkland. The existing podium creates an elevated entrance level three storeys above natural ground level, the lower level being for services access. From the podium connection position, the building site rises steeply away into the rolling landscape.

The Network Centre consists of three discreet formal elements. These comprise: an entrance building which addresses Square 1, connecting to the central campus areas; the main five-storey, double-banked linear teaching wing that reaches out into the landscape with a gently curving plan; and a rotunda housing a seminar room and double height robotics arena. The space between these elements acts as a double-height exhibition area, whilst for DDA compliance the new building is linked to an existing department building via a new steel bridge.

The choice of structure relates to a combination of speed of erection, thereby achieving a rapid watertight envelope, whilst maintaining sufficient mass to contribute to the energy strategy of the building. The primary structure consists of piled foundations with retaining walls cut into the rising landscape, supporting a steel frame with pre-cast concrete floor units. The cladding is a lightweight, highly insulated panel system finished in Sto render, with a stepped base of blue facing bricks. Windows are high performance triple-glazed units and include inter-leaf blinds.

The main South West elevation is organised as a ‘thick wall’ to provide primary horizontal and vertical service distribution, while preventing direct solar gain via deep window reveals. Internally, all room partitions are non-load bearing for flexibility of layout. Cable management is within deep spaces at the perimeter and at high level for flexible distribution of the departments complex electrical load requirements, with capacity for alternative future configurations.

The project is designed to meet low-energy criteria. Incorporating the TermoDeck® system actively ventilates the structure, and uses the thermal capacity of the concrete floor units for pre-cooling. In this way pleasant working environments are achieved within a naturally ventilated, highly insulated construction.

Posted 3rd June 2012
By Southstudio


Client: University of Essex

Architect: John Miller + Partners

Contractor: Wates Construction

Value: £4M

Professional Team:

  • Project Manager: University of Essex, Estates Office
  • Structural Engineer: Anthony Hunt
  • Services Engineer: Fulcrum Consulting
  • Cost Consultant: Davis Langdon

Status: Completed 2004