Nottingham- and London-based CPMG Architects was briefed to transform the university’s existing building, which divided the campus, into a modern, flexible landmark building to give it a new lease of life. The final design needed to give the building a ‘wow’ factor using low-maintenance, sustainable materials to create a single base for students.
The old building was completely refurbished and a new wing was constructed to incorporate a feature ‘POD’ area – a major aspect of the development which includes a sloping front facade and brings together 11 different study areas which were previously spread across nine different buildings.
Dawn Briggs, Associate Director at CPMG Architects, said: “The vision behind the build was to create a place that encouraged collaboration and openness between departments; sharing studios, workshops and break-out space.
“De Montfort University asked for an iconically-designed landmark that would form the centrepiece of the campus and create a true ‘inner city’ environment without the need for hard perimeter boundary walls.
“Providing dynamic, inspiring study accommodation for staff and students was the focus for the new build along with making significant improvements to the environmental and energy performance of the retained buildings – and removing the 1960s concrete structure appearance.”
The main benefit of the new facility is that art and design students now have all the facilities required for their study areas all under one roof. The new building houses printmaking and photographic facilities, workshops as well as visual arts, design, architecture and digital space, creating an inspiring and relaxing environment for students to express their creativity.
The project consisted of 10,000m2 of refurbishment and 15,000m2 of new build, where the varying architectural styles combine seamlessly to create a modern centrally-located landmark building for the university.
There were several challenges during the development; the first was coordinating the different floor levels across the low-rise CLASP (Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme) building, existing tower block and new-build elements.
CPMG saw this as an opportunity to celebrate the building’s juxtaposition, by enhancing circulation and providing an interactive route for student movement whilst maintaining accessibility for all. A specific example is the grand central staircase in the main atrium of the POD, nicknamed ‘the Harry Potter staircase’ by staff and students, which consists of timber-clad stairs that climb five levels, with each flight zig-zagging over the next.
As well as working with existing levels, the project also faced existing structural limitations. When the partitions within the existing CLASP building were taken down, an overwhelming amount of additional structural bracing was found, meaning CPMG had to redesign this element.
Dawn continues: “From the outset, De Montfort University’s Vijay Patel Building was a project that exemplified collaboration between end-users, the estates department, professional team and contractors. During the initial design stages, a large project office and workspace was set up within the building that was due for refurbishment to accommodate people involved with the build whilst work took place.
“The project space was fundamental in creating a strong team ethos, allowed end-users to have regular access to the designers (and vice versa) and became a focal point for the delivery of the scheme. Within this space, strong relationships were formed, which allowed the team to challenge each other in a creative and constructive way to deliver the best scheme possible for the university.”
Works on site demonstrated high levels of commitment, particularly with regards to health and safety within a major construction site at the centre of the university’s campus. Coordination of the works around university events, such as open days, freshers’ fairs and art and design exhibitions was vital to ensure daily operations of the university were not disrupted and a positive student experience continued.
The finished project has completely transformed the surrounding area and given the university campus a new breath of fresh air, with its modern design and iconic look.
The project has completely opened up the campus and connected the River Soar through to Leicester city centre, providing a thoroughfare for the public, whilst providing a stunning iconic focal point.
The university is committed to reducing the environmental impact of its campus; and as a result, the building’s design features 15% renewable materials. PV panels were integrated throughout the design and were a key element on the 11-storey tower. Solar shading and renewable energy is also provided by the 156 glass photovoltaic fins which have been installed on the arts tower – highlighting the university’s green credentials within the visual design.
All material generated as part of the demolition and strip-out process was recycled where possible. The new landscape scheme also saw more than 35 new trees planted together as part of an environmental scheme, which contributed to biodiversity and ecology.
The Vijay Patel Building was completed in August 2016 and opened its doors to students the following month.
Six months after the building was first used, Leicester Civic Society named it the ‘Best New Building in Leicester’ in February 2017. The society described the Vijay Patel Building as “uncompromisingly modern”, which is “in scale and harmony with its important historic surroundings”.
In June 2017, the building was awarded ‘The Best Educational Building’ in the East Midlands by Local Building Control Authority – a prestigious accolade which all partners involved with the build were extremely proud of.
Nick Gregory, Director at CPGM Architects, added: “We implemented a tactical combination of newly-built structures and comprehensive refurbishment of existing buildings which worked together to really push architectural boundaries. The new home of art and design – which comprises a mix of formal and informal teaching spaces, workshops, studios and shared atria – creates an inspiring space in which to teach and learn.”
The Vijay Patel Building brings all DMU’s art and design courses together into a beautiful, striking building filled with light. It provides space and facilities where student and staff ideas can develop and flourish.
The building has received a huge amount of praise from students, staff, visitors and investors for its individual and outstanding design. It has become a feature component of the university, a standout piece for the city of Leicester and an iconic design for the world of architecture.
Delivering the project on time and within budget involved a huge team effort, not only by CPMG but also by De Montfort University and its partners; project manager Mace, cost manager MDA, structural engineer Curtins, MEP engineer Pick Everard and main contractor Balfour Beatty Construction.
Other university developments which have been designed by CPMG include the University of Nottingham, Cranfield, Derby, Loughborough, Northampton and Teesside along with other colleges and learning academies across the country.