The University of Exeter’s £2.4m “subterranean” computer science building has been completed on time and is welcoming students.
Morgan Sindall Construction has delivered the extension which will be used by the South West Institute of Technology (SWIoT). Work only began on the project in early 2021 but it was finished on schedule.
Located on the university’s Streatham Campus by the existing Innovation Centre, it houses an adaptable space including an artificial intelligence (AI) arena and computer learning laboratory.
In order to maximise space, the extension has been designed as “subterranean”, meaning the building has been built partially within an existing grass bank. Skylights have been installed to ensure the new build remains well-lit, whilst external landscaping allows for pedestrian walkways.
Inside the one-storey main building is 4,305sq ft of underground teaching space including two main teaching areas. There is also a communal area and entrance foyers with toilets and access to plant rooms.
Outside, there is a new green roof terrace area to which students and staff have access, while a link structure at the back of the building adjoins the existing innovation centre and creates an access way.
The building is 25% more energy efficient than a standard building and the green roof features wildflowers, encouraging bees and other wildlife.
It also has energy saving devices such as water shut-off valves which reduces the amount of water required during flushing and provides leak protection.
The scheme has been part-funded by the Department for Education (DfE) through a £170m investment and is one of several buildings to deliver technical education across the region as part of the SWIoT.
The SWIoT is one of 12 Institutes of Technology located across the country in a unique collaboration between a number of partner organisations, developing facilities for training the next generation of highly-skilled technicians and engineers.
The project has been certified as “excellent” under BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method) sustainability qualifications.
The main contractor used Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) timber, which is certified to meet high environmental and social standards. The FSC system enables users to understand that specified timber products have been sourced from well-managed forests.
In the past five years Morgan Sindall Construction has delivered more than £20m of work for the University of Exeter. For the SWIoT project Morgan Sindall Construction implemented a number of social value initiatives, including through the extensive employment of local businesses, with 80% of the supply chain based within 30 miles of the site.
As well as apprentices, Morgan Sindall Construction also provided experience days for veterans and serving army personnel who were looking to enter a career in construction, including a former SAS member.
Brian Rice, area director at Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “We are delighted to have completed work on this bespoke building for the Institute of Technology at the University of Exeter.
“There has been an increased focus on STEM investment this year, not least because the pandemic has underlined the importance of science, data and technology. Together with its partner institutions, the new expansion will create a modern, state-of-the-art facility ready to support the next generation of digital and data specialists.
“The development’s success is owed to the fantastic client liaison between our team and the university. We held look-ahead meetings to try and mitigate any future issues and secured the building from our side to ensure we were fully segregated and avoided any disruption to students and staff.
“Building users were also invited to walk around the site on several occasions to ensure the design met their needs and they were very pleased with it.
“As well as this extension, we are carrying out improvement and refurbishment works on the campus to the existing Harrison building which is set for completion in December and we were able to use its delivery entrance for this project.”
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Professor Janice Kay, provost of the University of Exeter, said: “The new SWIoT building puts the University of Exeter firmly on the map as a leading university in the subject of computer and data science.
“It brings world-class opportunities to students and is a step-change in our degree apprenticeships offering. The building, robotics equipment and high-spec computer technology will support a significant curriculum, with modules such as machine learning, nature-inspired computing, machine vision, and artificial intelligence.
“This investment will help to train the next generation of highly skilled technicians and engineers, provide limitless opportunities for researchers to explore how we harness the power of computers and robotics, and will help put the South West region at the forefront of digital and engineering education.”