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The Cockcroft building is named after the scientist who split the atom

Brighton building shortlisted for award

Innovative retrofit of a 10,500sqm building at Brighton University shortlisted in the RICS Awards

Posted by Stephanie Broad | March 07, 2016 | Bricks & mortar

Fraser Brown MacKenna’s (FBM) retrofit of the Cockcroft Building at the University of Brighton has been shortlisted in the RICS South East Design Innovation Awards. In repurposing the Cockcroft Building at the University of Brighton, one of the largest retrofits of an occupied academic building in the UK, the architects were tasked with transforming a building designed in the atomic age into a research environment fit for the information age.

Named after the scientist who split the atom and designed with a machine-like rationalism, the ten-storey building dominates the skyline and remains the centrepiece of the University’s Moulsecoomb campus, providing 15,000sqm of teaching and research labs, study spaces and academic offices.

The building was reaching the end of its useful life; this first opportunity for a wholesale refurbishment provided the chance to replace its outdated infrastructure and address issues of overheating, solar glare, high energy costs and complex way-finding as well as improve the building’s fabric, which had battled against the corrosive maritime climate for half a century.

Central Spine Corridor After Refurbishment - FBM Architects - Richard Chivers Photography

The building was repurposed, capitalising on the innovative column-free floorplates. By moving circulation from a dark, narrow central spine corridor to a southern ‘solar’ corridor, FBM were able to release the clear floor-plate to provide a variety of new agile workspaces for formal and social learning. Laboratories designed during the Cold War have been replaced with spaces that support a diverse, global learning community. New ‘Learning Labs’ act as destinations within a new, open and transparent customer journey, which provides settings for break out and collaboration and glimpses of activity within, as well as re-establishing connection with the landscape and the impressive coastal views.

As well as addressing infrastructure issues, the long-term sustainability of the building has been secured. The architectural, structural and building services design has unlocked the hidden environmental potential of the building itself, with a new pattern of circulation and exposed thermal mass, working in tandem with the latest technology that includes an Aquifer Thermal Energy Store. The result has been a 57% reduction in energy demand, 59% reduction in CO2 emissions and has raised the EPC of the building from an F to a B.

Teaching Laboratories After Refurbishment - FBM Architects - Richard Chivers Photography

The refurbishment was carried out in ten phases, from August 2012 to September 2015, by the main contractor, Willmott Dixon Interiors.

In addition to its technical achievements, the refurbished building has had a long-term positive impact on the 2,000 staff and students who use the building. Professor Andrew Lloyd, Dean of the College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences stated that: “This transformative refurbishment, has converted this traditional 1960s building into light, airy, inspirational, state-of-the-art learning spaces for students and collaborative working environment for staff.”

Dr Chris Garrett, Principal Lecturer in the College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences, said: “As a lecturer who has been teaching in the Cockcroft building since 1987 the new spaces are wonderfully light and airy. I think the glass partitions have reduced psychological barriers increasing interactivity between students, staff and facilities and I really like combining the PC and visualizer to explain concepts. Of course visitors are impressed, which is good, but what matters in the longer term is the effectiveness for teaching and research, the refurbishment has definitely moved us on.” 

The winner of the RICS Awards South East will be announced at a ceremony in Brighton on May 12th.

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