Hewitt Studios – Berkeley Centre

Project Details


Project - Berkeley Centre
Sector - Education
Architect - Hewitt Studios
Technology - Glulam, CLT, Timber

Project Overview

The project comprises the £5m first phase of the conversion and refurbishment of a former nuclear research and engineering building at Berkeley Centre on the Severn Estuary in the UK.

The conversion provides South Glos and Stroud College with a renewable energy and engineering skills centre supported by both local enterprise funding and international technology partners, such as Schneider, Welink and Bosch.

The delivery of a reinvigorated, dynamic and sustainable facility is key to this offer – the building is designed to become an exemplar of regenerative investment and an education tool in its own right. It utilises a vast existing Engineering Hall to create a dynamic and sustainable new education facility, and will generate a surplus of electricity from a 100kW solar PV facade when fully complete.

Elements of the building fabric will be used to deliver specific areas of curriculum (e.g. solar PV and timber construction), whilst the responsible re-use of an existing building sets a low-carbon precedent for future developments to follow.

Neil Carmichael, MP and chairman of the Education Select Committee, said of the project 'It's a fabulous achievement, it's emblematic of... the importance to think big and be visionary'.

Steel would have been the obvious choice for the alterations to the existing structure, but Hewitt Studios chose a combination of hardwood Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) beams, glued-laminated (GLULAM) columns and cross-laminated (CLT) floors and balconies. This palette of pre-fabricated, sustainable and attractive timber products was assembled for a variety of reasons:

- It allowed for a rapid on-site build (important as the College had a limited window of construction opportunity) and limited the associated environmental disruption. - It was effectively factory-finished (with Class 0 clearcoat), requiring no additional lining or site-applied finishes.

- It gave the flexibility for services to be fixed anywhere, without the coordination issues normally associated with steel work (welding of additional brackets, etc.) - It is carbon-sequestering, with only PEFC / FSC certified timber from sustainably managed forests being used (along with formaldehyde-free adhesives). The timbers are also reusable, recyclable and easily disposable (as biomass fuel)

- It created a better environment than a steel-framed building; the surface quality is warmer / softer and the acoustics are superior, with improved reverberation times. - It was cost-comparable with a conventional steel frame, once savings on preliminaries, secondary framing, linings and finishes were considered.

- It provided a dramatic contrast with the existing steel structure, allowing building users to instinctively read the building's story, easily distinguishing between the original fabric and the new interventions.

- It has better thermal stability than steel, helping to mediate extremes of temperature when combined with the high thermal mass of the retained concrete floor.

Elsewhere, the design employs sustainable prefabricated timber cladding, minimising waste through use of plywood in standard 1200mm sheets. Its distinctive pattern is based upon the dazzle camouflage of World War I battleships. Rather than 'daze and confuse', it is here intended to reduce the visual mass of the lower levels of accommodation. It is also perforated and backed with acoustic material to suppress reverberation within the main hall.