Willmott Dixon completes £46.5m University of Birmingham development

Building work has completed this month (February 2021) on the £46.5m School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham, thanks to national contractor, Willmott Dixon.

The state-of-the-art 12,000 sqm facility spans five floors and features a double-height atrium. The development aims to not only bring together many of the institution’s engineering disciplines, but also provide opportunities for successful collaboration between academia and the industry.

Procured through the Constructing West Midlands framework, the School of Engineering puts industry at the heart of the University’s campus, alongside the £16.4M UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) Centre of Excellence in Digital Systems.

The facility’s design was curated specifically with agile and collaborative working between academics, researchers, students, and staff, in mind. The development offers open plan spaces and cellular facilities including a dedicated Student Support Hub, a new 179-capacity Design Centre, a 50-seat electronics and electrical focused projects space, 20 flexi-bays specifically allocated for staff and student interactions, three 50-seat seminar rooms and also features 160 drop-in study spaces throughout the building.

The basement also houses a full-size set of railway points, the University’s pantograph test rig and a test track for the scaled hydrogen-powered train – further expanding the university’s commitment to the integration of academia and industry.

Nick Gibb, deputy managing director for the Midlands at Willmott Dixon, said: “We are delighted to have completed such a significant development, both regionally and within the sector – the facility is set to pioneer advancements within engineering and digital systems research.

“Despite completing the final stages of the project during the Covid-19 pandemic, our teams optimised industry-leading safety and social distancing measures, which meant we were able to remain on-site throughout the pandemic and ultimately deliver the project to the agreed timescales. This development is the fifth major partnership we have entered into with the University of Birmingham, having recently completed the Teaching and Learning Building, along with the Green Heart campus development.

“One of our main aspirations for this development was to provide a highly energy-efficient building. Throughout the project we implemented a sustainability strategy to ensure the facility would be built and operated in an energy efficient way right from the outset, including the optimisation of Passivhaus design measures. These efforts, combined with the adoption of our industry-leading Energy Synergy™ process has enabled us to predict that 45% of the building’s energy consumption will come from unregulated sources, such IT equipment, lab equipment and external lighting. These sources are highly linked to occupant usage and can fluctuate throughout the building’s lifecycle.

Designed by Associated Architects, the School of Engineering demonstrates the university’s commitment to providing first-class engineering education. The development aims to improve student experience, allowing engineering undergraduate and postgraduate students to get involved in cutting-edge research and ensuring students graduate with a strong connection to the industry.

Head of the University of Birmingham’s School of Engineering, Professor Clive Roberts, said: “We are delighted to receive the keys to the newly built School of Engineering. We are committed to providing the best facilities for our staff, students and researchers, as well as enabling collaboration with our industry partners and encouraging different and more flexible ways of working.

“We are passionate about educating the next generation of engineers. Alongside accessing features such as the Design Centre and our expanded computer labs, our new building provides students with the opportunity to work with engineers across the disciplines. Their learning will mirror the workplace, encouraging and developing their understanding of industry and their role within it.

“The new building also sits alongside our new centre of excellence in railway innovation, the UK Railway Research Innovation Network (UKRRIN) Digital Systems Innovation Centre, placing industry at the heart of our campus. In the coming months, we are looking forward to opening its doors to welcome staff, students and industry partners.”

Warren Jukes, director from Associated Architects, said, “This scheme has afforded us the opportunity to design a beacon of engineering excellence, to attract the world’s best academics and students to the University of Birmingham. The project was a major engineering feat in its own right, and we take immense pride in overcoming the challenges it brought. We feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work closely with the School of Engineering, University and Willmott Dixon to realise such an inspiring facility that will enable growth and achieve research excellence.”

As part of Willmott Dixon’s commitment to leaving a legacy in the local community, throughout the development the contractor ran its Enrichment Programme in partnership with the University of Birmingham School for local pupils. The programme was created to broaden the students’ understanding of career opportunities whilst giving them a chance to develop their character virtues. The contractor also facilitated 157 student visits to the site, hosted 71 work experience weeks with local people and enabled 202 weeks of ‘on-site’ apprenticeship training.