Higher & Higher

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Higher Education in the UK has experienced a monumental change over recent years with the advent of tuition fees and the cap on student numbers lifted, intensifying an already hugely competitive market and rising expectations of students. Universities are now investing and the impact on the construction industry is significant. AUDE reported earlier this year that universities’ capital expenditure had exceeded £3M for the past three years. BDP have worked with over 100 UK universities and our recent and current projects focus on enhancing the student experience, providing world-class facilities for new pedagogic approaches in teaching and research and developing sustainable estates that can adapt to changing student numbers as well as significantly reducing carbon emissions.

BDP’s multi-disciplinary teams have delivered numerous university masterplans and, whilst each of the estates are different in context and character, there are some common emerging principles. Historically, universities were inward looking and today one of the main drivers for transforming estates is to provide universities with an enhanced civic identity by making them outward facing, permeable and connected to their local communities and cities. Within our masterplans, we transform streets by activating ground floors and showcasing the excellence in teaching and research. We ensure universities are ‘open for business’ and provide facilities and 3rd party space to enhance engagement with industry and partners. Our current masterplan for Sheffield Hallam University transforms impenetrable estate to provide a new civic heart and identity to the campus. A new business school acts as a catalyst to enhance business engagement and all buildings provide active street frontages to provide ‘Windows to the Work’.

The blurring of the boundaries between academia and business is leading to new building typologies. We are designing a Smart Innovation Hub for Keele University, which brings together the university’s management school and local council funded incubation space. The functions are designed around a central business lounge,  creating an environment that enables ‘open innovation’ by sharing ideas, knowledge and expertise between businesses and academia.

With four UK universities within the top 10 research universities in the world and more Nobel Prizes per capita than any other large nation, UK universities are also investing heavily in new world-class science and technology research facilities. A common theme within our designs for these facilities is an emphasis on interdisciplinary working, both within the university and with industrial partners. The Technology Innovation Centre for the University of Strathclyde brings together academics, researchers, engineers and leading industrial partners to work side-by-side in a state-of-the-art building. Building upon this, our design for MMU’s new science and engineering houses facilities to transform the way academics and industry work side-by-side on projects with research focused on industry’s challenges at the same time as ensuring students acquire the relevant skills for future careers.

Whilst home student numbers have been maintained, UK universities are in intense competition for international students on the global stage. Universities and their selected partners are providing new facilities to support emergent pathways for international students, leading to enhanced recruitment. Ambitious UK universities are also branching out, creating satellite campuses abroad. Our new campus for  Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University in Suzhou, China, accommodates a range of academic buildings and our recently completed International Business School Suzhou, on this campus, mixes teaching, research and business engagement, offering a creative and professional context, supporting their aspiration to become one of the top business schools worldwide.  

Common to all these trends in investment is the enhancement of the ‘Student Experience’ and the physical environment has a significant role to play in enhancing the experiences for students, staff and visitors. The role of good design and the provision of dynamic spaces that facilitate technology-enabled, social learning and collaboration is fundamental to this. In an age where students have become consumers, universities are focusing on building a brand and great public realm – and architecture and interiors have a key role to play to attract and inspire a new generation of students.