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A new city centre campus for Newport

(written for The CIBSE Journal)

A new city centre campus for the University of Wales Newport will be a key element in the regeneration of Newport. Innovative services design has achieved a 14.5% improvement on Part L and BREEAM Excellent without heavy investment in low or zero carbon technologies.

The new £35m Newport City Centre Campus project, due to open in 2010, is the first phase of an intended £50m two-phase development for the University with partnership funding from Newport City Council and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG).

The first-phase campus project is a collaboration between the University, Newport City Council and Newport Unlimited, the urban regeneration company for the city. It is situated on the west bank of the River Usk between the new tree-lined Usk Way boulevard and the existing riverside walk. Its northern end borders onto a new pedestrian city square at the west bank end of the new £5m foot and cycle bridge which dominates the city skyline standing 70m (229ft) high and spanning 145 metres (476 ft) across the River Usk.

As existing framework consultant to the University, Faber Maunsell | AECOM had an early involvement in the project, advising on BREEAM and sustainability issues. The company’s involvement with the new building then ceased and an OJEU notice was issued. Following a rigorous tender and assessment process, Faber Maunsell was selected from a shortlist of five major consulting engineers to carry out the design of M&E services, fire engineering, acoustics, ICT, advanced security and sustainability consultancy. The company was also appointed as approved BREEAM assessors.

“Although we had a strong ongoing relationship with the University stretching back over a number of years we knew we were likely to be up against some tough competition. We were aware that there would be strong interest in the project as it was widely recognised as a flagship for kick-starting the cultural regeneration of the city centre. I believe the simplicity and clarity of our approach, our experience of innovative design solutions but above all our enthusiasm for the project convinced the judging panel of our credentials for successfully delivering the project,” commented Faber Maunsell | AECOM Project Director Chris Lynn.

Sustainability is a key consideration underpinning the whole design and a condition of the funding from the WAG was that the campus building should achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating.

“We took the BREEAM issue on board right from the start,” said Lynn. “On some projects the BREEAM assessor can be rather passive with a tendency not to get too involved in some of the key design decision making.

“We took a very different view and involved our in-house sustainability consultants right from day one, who regularly provided input to the design process. They were instrumental in influencing the conceptual thinking of the design team and held workshops to communicate the key elements for consideration. In this way sustainability was always a high agenda item and integral to every design decision,” he added.

There was also an aspiration to exceed the requirements of the current Building Regulations Part L by at least 10%. In the event, the design has achieved a 14.5% improvement upon Part L through simplicity of design, avoiding the need for renewable energy sources to meet the targets.

Despite this fact, Faber Maunsell undertook a detailed feasibility study into the possible use of renewables and numerous options were considered for adding value to the development. For example, use of ground source heat pumps was considered but there was a danger of causing damage to existing underground ties running from the river’s retaining bank wall. Similarly, solar thermal heating was not deemed appropriate due to the high cost of integrating the units into the building fabric in order to maintain the high quality chic designs of the roof and west elevation façade of the building. Biomass fuel was also considered but discounted due to concerns over the reliability of a local fuel supply.

“There are some projects where clients wish to include renewables as a visual token gesture even though they may bring very little real practical added value,” explained Chris Lynn. “In contrast, the University took a very honest view and was adamant that renewables should only be included if they offered real added value and benefits to the project. The simplicity and effectiveness of the integrated design solutions negated the need for renewables. However, the design does include some provision for future retrofitting of renewables at a later date, if required,” he added.

A further limitation was the wedge-shaped site for the campus, which restricted the building orientation options. To address this issue Faber Maunsell carried out many iterations of dynamic thermal analysis modelling, using real weather data to model the temperature profiles of all internal spaces. The company then worked closely with architects Building Design Partnership (BDP) to arrive at a design that would achieve the right balance of natural daylight and solar heat gains, using a novel roof design combined with solar controlled glazing and brise soleil. The integrated design approach of architect and engineers was able to realise extensive glazing achieving the desirable effects of solar gain from early morning sun whilst at the other end of the scale selecting appropriate shading techniques for reducing solar overheating during peak summertime conditions.

It was clear to the designers from the computer modelling that a simple low energy ventilation system would be one of the key elements in achieving the required energy performance, whilst helping to reduce potential maintenance cost, this being a key consideration for the University’s estates team. However, the proximity of a main road with recorded noise levels of up to 80dBA obviated the use of natural ventilation as sound levels in many teaching spaces were predicted to reach around 50dBA during the day with open windows.

“Because of these influences we’ve opted for a displacement ventilation system in teaching spaces using the floor space as a supply air plenum and introducing the supply air through swirl diffusers at 19°C and low velocity to avoid draughts. In lecture theatres the diffusers are located under the seating,” explained Project Manager Kevin Searle. “Air is extracted at high level and heat is recovered at the air handling units using a number of energy-saving measures including, for example, a thermal wheel.

“There will be some mechanical cooling in areas with high IT usage and in the sound studios. Ceiling heights were kept to an optimum level for cost reasons which prevented the use of chilled beams so, where necessary, we will be cooling supply air from the air handling units supplying these areas,” he continued.

To further optimise the performance of the ventilation system, any spaces with variable occupancy will also be fitted with carbon dioxide sensors to provide demand controlled ventilation. In addition, the design team developed an understanding of the projected use of the various spaces to achieve further fine tuning.

“We worked very closely with the University to understand the usage and occupancy patterns of the various spaces and to set permissible peak temperatures based on this information,” recalled mechanical engineer Sarah Gealy. “This enabled us to raise set point temperatures in areas where temperature wasn’t critical and in teaching spaces that will not be in use during the summer months. In other areas, such as lecture theatres, temperature was considered critical and strict limitations were placed on peak temperatures,” she continued.

Heating will be provided by gas-fired condensing boilers serving a combination of trench heating and low level radiators. Using flow and return temperatures of 65°C and 45°C respectively, this will provide good condensing and optimise the efficiency of the heating plant.

Thanks to BDP’s innovative design approach the internal spaces will enjoy the benefits of high levels of natural daylight and the lighting design takes full advantage of this. Lighting in teaching spaces uses dimmable T5 linear fluorescent light sources, which are controlled in relation to daylight levels and occupancy to minimise electricity consumption. Where decorative lighting effects are required, light emitting diodes (LEDs) have been used to provide accent lighting, again with minimum energy consumption.

“Budgetary constraints meant that we had to give very careful thought to the lighting system,” explained Kevin Searle. “Working with BDP we have created layers of light using a minimum number of fittings, providing a ‘high class’ feeling at a relatively low cost – a happy compromise,” he added.

Culture clash

The Campus provides a focus for learning, creativity, innovation and enterprise. The heart of the building’s design philosophy is providing an environment which supports the creative process through research and engagement with the community. The building will be a ‘hothouse’ of creativity, incubating ideas and talent to support and establish enterprises that can compete effectively in the global economy.

In order to achieve a synergy between creativity and enterprise the new campus will be home to two schools – the digital media, film and design elements of the Newport School of Art, Media and Design and the Newport Business School. This will enable the creativity of the School of Art, Media and Design to be fused with the Business School’s enterprise and business expertise. The Business School also provides expertise in the application of computer based technologies which underpin the design process. The two schools have different cultures, and the design of the building supports their integration, a particular feature of the building being the ‘hothouse’ which will be a focal point for research.

The University is committed to providing an excellent student experience and with its agenda for social change and inclusion has a diverse student population. The building therefore needs to offer the flexibility to meet the needs of all students and be physically transparent and open to the city. This reflects the University’s ethos of a community university with no barriers. The building will be open to the public, has an exhibition and gallery space and space for visitors to relax and enjoy the building.

The campus is a key part of the regeneration of the whole of Newport’s city centre and developing cultural quarter bringing vibrancy to the area - an effect which has already been seen in Cardiff. For this reason and in the current economic conditions it was important that the project continued unabated.

Except for some initial enabling works the main works began onsite in December 2008 and is set to deliver not just a new campus but an iconic landmark for Newport by 2010. Throughout the design phase there has been close collaboration between all team members, and with the client.

“A crucial element of this project so far, and moving forward, has been the positive engagement of our engineers at every stage of the process with project managers Mott MacDonald led by Mark Smith, the University’s Estates team and in particular the end-users. We have been keen to ensure that our ideas have been articulated to the University and others in a way that everybody understands, thus providing the opportunity to debate any key design issues constructively. Quality, cost and time is always a balance on every project and in the city centre campus I believe we have achieved an excellent balance and the campus will be a development that the City of Newport can be proud of for many years to come.” Chris Lynn concluded.


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