The Riverside, a higher educational building designed by KKE Architects for the University of Worcester, has won the Higher Education Building category of the AJ Retrofit Awards 2012. The awards, created by the Architects’ Journal (‘the voice of architecture in Britain’), recognise the vision of clients and the skill of architects in re-purposing existing buildings to create cost-effective schemes with low energy usage and reduced carbon emissions. The innovative Riverside building, which appears purpose-built, but was in fact created from a former car dealership with associated workshops, has achieved a C energy performance rating (EPR): a significant achievement for a refurbishment and especially one created on a tight budget. At a total project cost of £2.3m, the scheme cost approximately half what it would have cost to build from scratch (at a £1000 per sq m rather than £2000 per sq m for a new scheme).
Martin Mayfield of award sponsors Arup commented on the ‘Higher Education Buildings’ category: “Universities and colleges must not only rationalise their estates, but improve their performance in response to the changing agenda on carbon, teaching, research and finance. Reducing carbon emissions while using more energy demands a strategic, long-term approach to estates management.” He also said of the winning and finalist projects “It’s inspiring to see the innovative ways in which these projects are dealing with these issues.”
The Riverside project sought to extend the University of Worcester’s building portfolio on a strategic new central site in Worcester (also a conservation area), linking the original campus to the new City Campus. Applications to the University had, in recent years, grown seven times faster than the national average and its investment programme aimed to provide a mix of new, improved and refurbished facilities throughout Worcester, to provide excellent educational, sporting and performance spaces to benefit both students and the wider community.
A former car showroom and servicing garage, which had fallen into disrepair after being empty for over a year, was re-imagined for the new scheme as a centre for sports science and performance arts teaching, encapsulating a sports hall, sports teaching rooms, a dance room, full changing rooms and a large social space with café facilities. ‘Our approach’ explained Phil Kavanagh, KKE Architects’ Director and Project Leader, ‘was to optimise the layout for the required teaching and social functions and to concentrate the refurbishment efforts into reducing energy use, seeking innovative ways to retain as much of the original building envelope and adding elements to help with energy conservation, as well as giving the building increased scale, impact and authority.’
Landscaping on the scheme was by KKE Architects’ Director and Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist garden designer Olivia Kirk. “The planting scheme was robust and was created in order to provide privacy and breakout spaces for students using the new social learning space” explained Olivia Kirk. “A long curve of Cornus Midwinter Fire and Eleagnus Limelight provide year-round interest, with eight multi-stemmed River Birch providing a striking boundary between the university building and the adjacent busy road. Traditionally associated with river banks, the trees are visually pleasing, with the flaking, cinnamon-coloured bark contrasting in winter with the bright red of the Cornus.’
The existing building was steel-framed with external cladding and single-glazing to the front and minimal insulation. KKE Architects removed all the cladding back to the steel frame and specified new cladding with high levels of insulation, whilst most of the glazing was replaced with double-glazing, even though the ‘C’ EPR was achieved even with some levels of single glazing retained. In addition to the new rendering, more functional areas to the west of the building were re-clad in smooth silver cladding panels, attaching stretcher bond over the existing façade to simplify the exterior.
The architects introduced a steel and louvre loggia system around the large curtain-walled area of the building, facing the River Severn. This functions as solar shading, working together with the tree avenue to give shelter to the pathways around the building, whilst the new roof over-sail and colonnades lend the building greater presence on the important river and main road frontage. The resultant reduction in solar gain removes the need for mechanical cooling, whilst good daylight levels are maintained. “What this means is that when the sun is high in the sky, heat gain is cut out, but when the sun is lower in the sky, light is not lost” explained Phil Kavanagh.
When it came to energy usage, a combination of mechanical and electrical systems’ design and integration both passively and actively lowered energy consumption and carbon emissions. Window openings within the other areas of the south-facing façade were reduced and vertical screening was introduced that reduces the mechanical and venting energy use in the teaching rooms. Wind-catchers and natural ventilation were used within the social spaces to reduce energy use, whilst the high spaces in the café and sports hall areas were exploited to drive the natural ventilations system, promoting increased airflow through the wall and roof terminals.
Modern systems feature throughout to promote reduced energy consumption, from demand-based M&E systems to ultra-low NOx condensing boilers, as well as variable speed/volume pumping systems; demand-based ventilation; mixed-mode cooling systems; cooling provided on ‘peak lopping’ basis to minimise consumption of energy; heat recovery ventilation systems; electronic flow controls for showering facilities to minimise hot water consumption; fully-automated building management system controls; efficient high frequency fluorescent lighting; daylight-linked lighting controls in heavily-glazed areas and automatic lighting controls to reduce the ‘on’ time of lighting systems. ‘High levels of insulation and passive ventilation help to keep in-use-costs low and assist towards lowering carbon emissions’ added Phil Kavanagh. ‘Additionally, only 5 tonnes of waste from the site went to landfill, with 212 tonnes recycled and 16 further tonnes retained on site.’
The university’s existing branding is blue and a range of complimentary blues was introduced to the scheme with all internal doors using a different shade. Orange was chosen for the external feature wall to be bright and vibrant and sit well tonally with the blue. A new grey paving belt around the building replaced the existing red brick garage forecourt, along with the new landscaping. Internally, blue and orange are also used for loose furniture and screening within the double-height social space. The ceiling in this space is a suspended acoustic ceiling by Echophon, with all services above painted-out in black. New large-sale pendant lighting in the space is contemporary and striking and serves to lower the ceiling slightly to create a more human scale, as well as providing an eye-catching feature at night through the glazing. Blue is used also for the graphic figures on the walls of the sports hall, designed by KKE Architects to add interest to the space.
Dr Susie Hart, Head of Sport and Recreation Strategy at the University of Worcester, commented: ‘The conversion of the old garage workshops into a physical activity hall and dance studios has been equally well received by students, recreational users and high performance groups. We are extremely pleased with the complex in that, without exception, our range of client groups love the design and accessible location.’ The social learning space is well-used by the University students and many take advantage of it as a stopping-off point when travelling between sites, whilst also using it as a destination. The central location further encourages greater use of cycling and public transport.
Architects: KKE Architects