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Campus eye: The Oculus by Berman Guedes Stretton

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AJ Specification case study: a new flagship teaching and learning building houses two wings under a dramatic arched roof. Photography by Quintin Lake and Neil Eaton


The Oculus provides the University of Warwick with a new flagship teaching and learning building, the first on the campus to be dedicated purely to teaching, and available to all in the university regardless of academic department or discipline. 

The project was born out of the university’s own research by its Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning, which worked closely with the architects during the briefing stages. The building meets the vision for an inspiring multifaculty space that enables greater knowledge-sharing and socialising between students from across the full range of academic subjects, enhancing their overall experience and promoting forward-thinking approaches to educational innovation. 

Teaching spaces are located in two wings, supporting a dramatic arched timber roof, beneath which the forms of the two lecture theatres are placed. Generous circulation spaces flow around these forms and create enclaves of space for social learning, while the inclusion of a café further supports use of the building by students beyond formal teaching sessions.

The new building also meets the briefing requirement to provide a new architectural direction for the ongoing development of the campus. Lawrence Young, vice-president of the university, described the Oculus as ‘a building that has transformed the centre of our campus’.

Neil Eaton, director, Berman Guedes Stretton

Project data

Start on site April 2015
Completion September 2016
Form of contract Scape framework using NEC3: Option A Design and Build Contract 
Construction cost £14.2 million 
Construction cost per m2 £2,990
Gross internal floor area 4,750m2
Architect Berman Guedes Stretton
Client University of Warwick
Structural engineer Copeland Wedge Associates
M&E consultant Derry Building Services
Quantity surveyor Pick Everard
Fire consultancy 3Planets
Project manager Pick Everard
CDM co-ordinator Berman Guedes Stretton/Pick Everard
Approved building inspector Acivic 
Main contractor Willmott Dixon
CAD software used ArchiCAD
Annual CO2 emissions 11.4kg/m2

Detail 2 bgs oculus image 10

Detail 2 bgs oculus image 10


Two quite different roofing systems are used at the Oculus. A flat precast plank deck provides thermal mass for the naturally ventilated teaching wings and creates a robust deck for mounting photovoltaic arrays and plant behind a high parapet. An inverted flat roof covering was specified in line with university standard requirements for long-life coverings.

Spanning 34m between these two wings is the showpiece vaulted roof with an exposed timber structure and clean-lined aluminium standing-seam covering, including four substantial translucent ETFE pillow rooflights.

This roof features inclined 240mm-wide x 880mm-deep glulam primary arches (assembled on the ground from two sections before lifting into place) arranged in pairs springing from the 6.6m teaching wing grid, with additional arches front and back (in spruce for added durability) to increase the projection of the roof and form the verge. A diagrid of smaller 160mm-wide x 400mm-deep straight glulam beams stabilises the arches, while galvanised-steel ties and 100mm cross-laminated timber panels topping the arches create an inherently stiff structure.  

The roof is well insulated and finished with a pre-patinated aluminium standing seam covering. Lightweight ETFE foil cushion rooflights conform to the arched geometry of the openings to provide diffuse daylight within.

Neil Eaton, director, Berman Guedes Stretton

Roof parapet detail

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