Sep 19, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

A sustainable structure for the University of Essex

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Plans were passed in 2013 for the construction of a three-storey educational building and a single-storey MBA lecture theatre, scheduled to be opened in the autumn of 2015 at the University of Essex. The build involved a hybrid structure of glulam, CLT, steel and prefabricated wall cassettes.


The project came as a result of a £5m award which was granted to Essex from the Higher Education Funding Council for England – the highest award available for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) facilities.

The University then match-funded with an additional £5m to build the interdisciplinary teaching facility. The key driver for the project was to create the first zero carbon business school in the UK – a building aimed to reflect the University’s vision for growth, excellence and sustainability. The facilities were designed to provide students, staff and business partners with innovative spaces in a collaborative environment – focused around a winter garden in an Eden Project-style dome.

Executive Dean for Science and Health Professor, Graham Underwood, said: “This significant investment in STEM facilities will ensure we continue to provide all our students with the skills and knowledge necessary to enable them to be successful graduates of this university. The new teaching centre will enhance our provision of high quality laboratory and IT learning spaces, and will also support developments in interdisciplinary teaching.”

Morgan Sindall appointed X-LAM Alliance – a leading supplier of engineered timber solutions – to provide the glulam, steel, CLT and wall cassettes for the build. The X-LAM Alliance were on site in May 2013 to begin on the three-storey building and MBA lecture theatre – both hybrid structures consisting of glulam columns, glulam floor beams, wall cassettes and CLT floor deck. A curved structure formed the main building constructed mainly from Whitewood Spruce timber glulam, with the exception of the visual winter garden area that used Larch glulam.

The winter garden encompassed an Ethylene Tetra Fluoro Ethylene (ETFE) and timber roof. On completion, the garden acts as a buffer zone – supporting the passive ventilation and heating strategy of the building, whilst also providing a striking arrival and meeting space, showcasing the green and social character of the new business school. The roof of the business school was covered in photovoltaics – taking full advantage of the south orientation in order to provide renewable energy for a combined heat and power installation. This enabled the net export of energy to offset carbon emissions from the building.

The main lecture theatre is formed through a geodesic structure – comprising glulam, steel nodes, CLT and wall cassettes. The wall cassette panels were assembled between the raking glulam columns. Standard larch glulam-sized beams were double glued together to achieve the long curved members and steel and iroko timber were then used to construct an external ramp for disabled access.

The new carbon neutral build will showcase renewable technologies in action with the aim of achieving a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) rating of Excellent. It will also feature a range of innovative sustainable elements, including the green sedum roof, solar panels and sustainably sourced materials.

The main challenge for the X-LAM Alliance during this project was achieving the curved wall cassettes for the main lecture theatre. In order to overcome this challenge the cassettes were carefully set out and assembled onsite, instead of the usual process of being pre-constructed offsite.

The highlight of the build for the Alliance was being involved in the creation of the first zero carbon business school in the UK – creating a stimulating learning environment for students with a reflection of the university’s sustainability ethos.

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