Swansea University’s Bay Campus

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We’ve come to the south of Wales – an area very much in the spotlight right now – to visit a facility that offers a much-needed economic boost and positive headlines.

Swansea University’s Bay Campus is situated on a 65-acre former BP Transit site in Neath Port Talbot on the eastern approach into Swansea and has the distinction of being one of the few global universities with direct access onto a beach and its own seafront promenade. The Campus provides academic, student accommodation and research space, the latter being in a series of agreements with international and national companies.

Whilst development work will continue up until 2020, the majority of the works was completed during this first phase of construction, that first phase being opened in September 2015.

Colleges based at the Bay Campus include the College of Engineering and the School of Management. Facilities here include the Tower Information Centre, home to central support services for students, a state-of-the-art Bay Library, contemporary Students’ Union, facilities and meeting rooms and an impressive Great Hall, which houses an auditorium for 700 people, lecture theatres and a café offering magnificent views across the Swansea Bay, towards Gower and Baglan Bay.

There is an extensive catering provision throughout the campus including vibrant cafés, bars and a restaurant, retail units include a mini market, a launderette and cash points. All of this is in addition to recreational sporting facilities and, of course, a beach for students to enjoy.

We meet with Buro Four Associate Director Judith Richards and BOF Design and Project Manager Simon Narbeth, who worked closely throughout this fantastic and groundbreaking undertaking to ensure the furniture and fittings selected throughout the campus would work for students and staff alike. And when we say work, we mean that they had to be flexible, adaptable, robust, and stylish and be able to provide agile and multifunctional settings. No small ask!

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Simon tells us that this was BOF’s largest project to date. BOF was awarded the contract for provision of furniture and soft seating for the University of Swansea Bay Campus. The project involved extensive input from BOF’s project team and involved managing the supply and delivery of over 29,000 furniture items across the campus.

Bay Campus is an extension of the existing Singleton Park, just five miles down the coast, expanding the University to become a world-class facility situated directly on the beach. With over 5,000 students and 1,000 staff at the Bay Campus alone, the needs of both students and staff were of course a major consideration throughout the project.

“They’ve got a real can-do attitude here – which was really refreshing. The faculties who are here are very international.”

‘The entire project was a real challenge,’ Judith tells us. ‘They opened in September, with nine buildings coming on line. They’ve got a real can-do attitude here – which was really refreshing. The faculties who are here are very international. We’ve done a lot of big jobs, but the scale of this was pretty incredible.’

In order to deliver the project on time and on budget a smart methodology was required – together with a good dose of common sense – which Judith and the team quickly developed. ‘There are only three different types of teaching classrooms across the entire Campus – three different chairs and three different tables. We did a great deal of preliminary work over at the Singleton Campus, working with the University team, where we tested the products to see what would stand the test of time and meet teaching requirements and, from there, we were able to standardise the choice of products. We also standardised the academic offices – where the only choices were the shape of the table, the style of chair and a palette of finishes. Everything we have chosen is incredibly flexible and on at least a five-year warranty – this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I think they really seized that opportunity.

‘It was also important that we helped change the mindset when it came to how the students work, so we have introduced an awful lot of breakout facilities where they can work and relax and interact away from formal teaching spaces.’

Judith tells us that one of the greatest challenges here was looking after the requirements of the academics themselves.
‘I think academics traditionally like to surround themselves with walls,’ she tells us. ‘The academics here are in offices but they are dual-purpose as all the tutorials are held in these offices as well. The offices were designed to be big enough to accommodate this and furniture solutions allowed this to happen. Researchers are in open plan Research Hubs adjacent to the academic offices. Having moved out of much smaller offices, the challenge was to create furniture solutions that provided the right amount of privacy and collaborative spaces in the open plan environment. We did a lot of work with the University team to make sure they 
had the right space and furniture solutions.

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‘I worked closely with the University Procurement Team here. Most of the furniture was procured through European Call for Competition. Costs came in extremely competitively and allowed us to design effectively. We managed Stakeholder engagement throughout the whole process, focusing on quality, functionality and design for elements such as the task chairs and the workstations. We put forward the proposals we believed would provide the correct solution, and immediately got sign-off on that.

‘We brought in some really nice soft seating elements and also the Eames plastic chair – which I feel is an important link back to the Singleton Campus, because that chair was used throughout the original campus.

‘I don’t think it’s rocket science to buy the right furniture but it did need careful consideration – and we were also able to take advantage of the size and the scale of the project. It was an awful lot of furniture – but I think we were able to get all that down to just 30 or so different manufacturers. We looked closely at continuity of supply because we want this to be able to work for the university for the next 10 years.’

The impressive (although, as Judith says, not massively extensive) selection of furniture now adorns classrooms, atriums, laboratories, libraries, staff offices and dining halls – with every piece carefully considered and providing multiple functions.

The academic buildings feature cool boulevards, complete with coffee shops and chic Parisian-style coffee vans. Moving further inside, we find a simple yet extremely effective monotone scheme throughout the classrooms and offices, coupled with those smart furniture solutions. We can immediately see how the flexible solutions can be rearranged to provide different working and teaching settings, while we also can’t help noticing that the rooms are immaculate – surely a big compliment to the campus staff and the robust yet stylish selection of products specified for the space.

In the heart of the Bay Campus lies the Bay Library. ‘When working on the library it was clear that we needed to support the vision of the Library Team and provide the students with as many different way of working as possible,’ Simon tells us, ‘from open collaboration spaces, to meeting pods, to casual softer seating. Our aim was to facilitate the students and provide them with the opportunity to work in whichever way works for them.

“When working on the library it was clear that we needed to provide the students with as many different way of working as possible.”

‘Using furniture from Orangebox, Boss Design and Connection, we were able to create a relaxed environment where students can feel comfortable while they focus on their studies.’

Indeed, as we walk through the library we can’t count the number of cool settings available for students. The sunken centre of the space looks out across the bay, providing a brilliant, relaxed facility for the students, who appear to be using each and every one of the settings provided. Maybe, we consider, commercial workplaces could learn something from the use of space here.

Another standout facility is the Great Hall, which not only provides an awesome auditorium space, but also offers an accompanying elegant bar and dining solution that can be hired and will provide welcome added revenue for the university. With amazing views out over the bay and chic Brunner seating, this is a long, long way from the university facilities we ‘fondly’ remember from our pasts.

We often finish articles by saying how we wish we had more time and space. Believe us when we say we feel we’ve hardly scratched the surface when it comes to this remarkable campus by the sea.