design solutions

Unlocking the potential

This Brighton University building has been transformed from a dark and unloved space into a bright, flexible learning and research environment, fit for the information age


N repurposing the Cockcroft Building at the University of Brighton, one of the largest retrofits of an occupied academic

building in the UK, the architects Fraser Brown MacKenna (FBM) were tasked with transforming a building designed for the Atomic Age into a research environment for the Information Age. The 10,500sqm building, which is

occupied by 2,600 staff and students, was reaching the end of its useful life. Demolition and replacement with a new building was not feasible given space and budget constraints and would have lost the embodied energy within the existing building. The infrastructure within the Cockcroft

Building had reached the end of its design life. Accessibility, building services, and fire egress all required urgent improvement. The thermal performance of the envelope was poor, allowing significant heat loss through the windows and walls. Internally, teaching and

research laboratories were outdated with unsuitable wooden floors, poor servicing and worn out equipment. Similar activities were dispersed across

the building which, together with a lack of breakout space, hindered the exchange of knowledge. The congested central circulation corridor and poor vertical circulation created an unpleasant customer journey for staff, students and visitors. Cellular spaces on the southern elevation were prone to overheating and suffered from solar glare - blinds were permanently down, blocking natural light and the impressive views to the coast. An innovative approach integrating

architectural, building services and structural design has unlocked the environmental potential of the building and enhanced this with the latest technology, including an aquifer thermal energy store, which is predicted to achieve a 57% reduction in energy demand, 59% reduction in CO² emissions and fuel savings of £82,000 each year. FBM sought to reduce energy demand

and then to meet remaining energy needs from renewable sources. Its design solution was a holistic architectural, M&E and structural design strategy, unlocking the energy saving potential of the existing building and the site on which it stands - and enhancing this with the latest technology. The architects opened up the floorplate

of the building, reactivating the original column-free structure - creating the possibility to offer new, bright, open and flexible teaching and research spaces throughout the building. The more efficient floorplate has generated a 26% increase in occupancy and a 54% increase in space utilisation. FBM altered the pattern of circulation,

moving away from the existing, central spine corridor to a southern “solar” corridor solution. In the existing building, the spine corridor created small, cellular spaces either side, which were either too hot or too cold. The solar corridor unlocks the potential of the floorplate. Glazed screens to the teaching space allow natural light to permeate through the building. The use of solar control glass minimises

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glare and reduces the need for solar shading - maximising the impressive views towards the coast. The solar corridor allows glimpses of activity into the teaching spaces, significantly enhancing the customer journey through the building for staff, students and visitors. The building was stripped back to

expose the impressive concrete structure, allowing this to be used as a heat store - radiating cooler night time air in the summer and retained heat in the winter. Retaining the exposed concrete

meant omitting suspended ceilings from 85% of the building which, combined with the omission unnecessary floor finishes, saved £707,000 and 244 tonnes of embodied CO². As external over-cladding was not viable

due to highly articulated façade, the thermal properties of the building envelope were radically improved by replacing all 986 of the original steel-framed Crittal windows with thermally-broken aluminium windows and low-e glazing to the north and solar control to the south. The key interventions - that is, changing the layout of the building to reduce

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