Jun 05, 2014

How timber systems helped Essex accommodate more students

The higher education sector is an increasingly competitive market. British universities are competing to attract students not only with each other, but also with institutions across the continent and in many cases the world. For them to stand out, they need to offer something extra.

2013 welcomed a rise in the number of students joining the UK’s higher education institutions. Figures from September 2013 showed numbers were back to where they were prior to the introduction of tuition fees, with an estimated 446,000 student enrolments.

The combination of these two trends puts pressure on universities to provide top class facilities and student accommodation. The latter is particularly important in an increasingly globalised market, which is seeing large numbers of students coming to universities from across the UK and much further afield.

Taking advantage of both these trends, the University of Essex has welcomed a record number of students in recent years. The university has made a commitment to providing high quality on-campus accommodation for first year and overseas students, which required it to expand its student housing capacity.

To help it meet this pledge, we worked with Bouygues UK on a new £65 million student accommodation project for the university at its Colchester campus.

Designed to BREEAM Excellent standard by Lewis Hickey Architects, the site comprises of 228 bedrooms across 19 four-storey townhouses. The university’s goals for the project were threefold, reflecting the aims of most universities when it comes to building new student accommodation.

  • Cost effective quality: The accommodation was built cost effectively to match the BREEAM Excellent criteria set by the university. With university budgets under pressure, this has seldom been a more pertinent issue. The use of offsite construction helped cut down expenditure on site prelims, the amount of labour required and the cost of managing waste.
  • Speed of build: We delivered 19 four-storey units in only 11 weeks. That’s significantly quicker than using concrete or steel frame as a build system. In fact, our Sigma II Build System can shorten developments that would take around 18 weeks in masonry build to just seven weeks in timber frame.  Speed of build was crucial to delivering the accommodation ahead of students arriving for the new academic year.
  • Sustainability and energy efficiency: A U-Value of just 0.23 W/m2K was achieved through the external walls, representing a low level of heat loss which maximised energy efficiency in the process. We also delivered Y-Values between 0.05 and 0.06, as well as an air tightness of three. This helps in reducing energy bills therefore a more desirable prospect for potential students.

This project with the University of Essex demonstrated that you can meet challenging targets in all three of these areas, without having to make sacrifices. The use of timber frame was crucial to making the project a success on all three fronts.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Timber Research and Development Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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