The Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia (UEA) has been upgraded from its former title as the ‘UK’s greenest commercial building’ to a world-class sustainability exemplar, winning the 2016 BREEAM Award in the education and healthcare category against stiff competition. In achieving Passivhaus and BREEAM Outstanding the building took a fresh approach to sustainability with a highly engaged client and delivery team achieving an innovative model of local materials sourcing.
The University of East Anglia’s Adapt Low Carbon Group was created to assist start-up firms that have grown from the university’s world-class environmental science programmes. In line with the organisation’s aims to support low carbon businesses, the client had a simple brief for its Norwich site – to be an exemplar of sustainable design which broke the mould on current thinking. In doing so they wanted to create a building that offered dedicated space for workshops, networking and open-plan offices and promoted collaboration and innovative thinking through high levels of natural light and fresh air, and low energy consumption.
Success for the client would also mean a change of approach to sourcing materials, using local suppliers and locally grown natural materials which meant a change of approach across the supply chain and the need to establish and develop new contacts and processes.
The client was the driving force in ensuring the key goals were met, which in addition to the sustainable certifications achieved included a demanding target of 75% lower embodied carbon than standard higher education buildings.
Located in parkland on the outskirts of Norwich, the 3,400 m2 building is clad in distinctive thatch, created using offsite prefabricated timber cassettes which represent one of the project’s several global construction firsts. The Enterprise Centre sits at the gateway to the UEA Campus as the emblem of the university’s commitment to be a leading institution on climate change and sourcing of local trade and low-carbon materials.
The client laid down a ‘magnificent seven’ project aims for the Enterprise Centre. This include achieve Passivhaus standard; achieve BREEM Outstanding; utilise bio-based materials; 75% lower embodied carbon; use local suppliers; a 100 year design life and soft landings.
A design stage competition was won by an expert team consisting of architect, Architype, contractor Morgan Sindall, structural engineer and BREEAM assessor, BDP. It also included BSRIA, who provided advice on life cycle aspects, air tightness, and the project’s Soft Landings procurement element aimed at providing greater integration of the project team with performance outcomes including a three year post-occupancy evaluation.
The project’s design achieved 90.8% of available BREEAM credits giving it an Outstanding rating. This was the result of the project team, given freedom by the client to innovate in all aspects, taking a fresh approach by framing every design decision using sustainability and exemplary low carbon solutions which also achieved the project’s goal of 75% lower carbon than similar buildings.
The most obvious innovative design solution is the locally sourced and prefabricated vertically hung straw thatch panel cassettes which clad the building. However, a less obvious but important innovation was that many structural elements within the building are Corsican Pine, sourced from Thetford Forest which is 30 miles from the site and not normally used as a structural material. The sustainable innovation required the design and construction teams to work closely with timber frame manufacturer Cygnum Timber Frame, The Forestry Commission, BRE and Thomson Saw Mill in Norwich to prove the suitability of the timber. The building’s foundations include not only 100% recycled aggregate but a unique low carbon concrete mix, and insulation is 100% recycled newspaper. Other local and natural materials used include Norfolk flint, hemp fabric, re-processed glass, re-purposed mahogany benches, reclaimed oak, clay plaster and nettle boards. The project team’s focus has enabled a large proportion of materials used to be sourced under 30 miles from the site.
Further environmental features of the building include 480m2 of solar panels – saving 3.9 kg CO2e/m2 annually – low NOx heating, SuDS and no active mechanical cooling as well as extensive site waste management and recycling during construction. In addition, water-saving sanitary-ware was specified and rainwater is reused for flushing.
BREEAM driving unique sustainable achievement
The target of achieving BREEAM Outstanding across a wide range of categories helped shape the design of the building and deliver its successes. On ‘Management’ the use of Soft Landings unquestionably provided a vehicle for the team to clarify the client brief from the outset, avoiding reworking and wasted time. Collaboration with all external stakeholders helped produce an early design with full buy in from the client.
The team developed a detailed understanding of air quality and a management plan for providing good internal air quality, within the ‘Health & Wellbeing’ BREEAM criterion, so that materials and construction processes did not contribute to indoor air quality issues during occupation. The project looked in detail at its water use, both during construction and with the building in operation, beyond reducing use to also consider energy use in treating reused water. Innovative slimline storage tanks in WCs collect, filter and UV treat water avoiding the need for underground store tanks and pump sets.
All materials used were scrutinised and challenged to ensure that the most effective product was selected to meet sustainability goals. Lastly, on ‘Land Use and Ecology’ a sympathetic approach to landscaping and biodiversity was developed for the project, which harnessed the BREEAM approach of systematically recording a project’s ecological features and details throughout its life.
The presence of a client team prepared to think differently in tandem with a highly engaged project team enabled the project to innovate at every opportunity including enabling a change of mindset throughout the supply chain to deliver locally sourced materials. A unique procurement method including a design competition and a single-point delivery model helped to successfully encourage and underpin sustainability throughout the project to deliver both BREEAM Outstanding and Passivhaus, as well as a host of innovations.
Professor John French, CEO of the Adapt Low Carbon Group commented on how the BREEAM process was key to providing a useful method for the project team to focus on and deliver its wide ranging and ambitious sustainability targets. “BREEAM provided a known and established framework for the design team and contractor to work within. While some of our sustainable aspirations exceeded BREEAM criteria, other credits provided useful benchmarks to incorporate into the building design.”