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University of Birmingham’s new business centre references its Brutalist neighbour

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Berman Guedes Stretton has completed the Alan Walters Building, a £7 million postgraduate teaching centre for the Business School at the University of Birmingham

The 2,936m² building provides the school’s first Harvard-style lecture theatre, a mock trading room, a further large-tiered lecture theatre, a range of seminar rooms, IT suites, staff offices, study areas, café and social spaces to create a distinct academic and social base for the school’s postgraduate community.

The brief for the project was to create an open, collaborative and professional environment that would reflect the bridge between the worlds of academia and commerce represented by the postgraduate, MBA and Exec MBA courses taught within the building. The site’s close proximity to Arup’s Brutalist concrete Muirhead Tower led to BGS’s desire to give the new building a sense of ‘gravitas’ by using heavy-weight materials such as brick and concrete to create a feeling of permanence and solidity to match that of the tower. The plan of the new building also responds to its neighbour, with the width and spacing of each wing matching those of the two principal Muirhead blocks. The placing of the new building, and the landscaping around it, was also carefully considered to pick up and extend the sequence of stairs and decks to the north of the tower. Extending the deck to become the ground level of the new building resolved the previously unnatural termination that cut into the undercroft parking.

2982 2982 n55 bgswebsite

2982 2982 n55 bgswebsite

Floor plan

The larger of the two three-storey wings, the north-south linear wing to the east, houses the majority of the seminar spaces, the offices, a ‘careers in business’ centre and ground floor café. The smaller west wing is home to the 100-seat Harvard-style lecture theatre on the top floor, situated above a raked 200-seat lecture theatre and with the mock trading room at ground floor level.

The north-south atrium between the two wings contains the MBA and postgraduate lounges on the upper floors and acts as the social heart of the building. The whole space is flooded with light from both the saw-toothed roof and fully glazed west facade.

Triple-height fin walls, expressing the 3.6m structural bay of the concrete frame, run the length of the west elevation of the atrium and create breakout study rooms on the second floor and discrete seating bays at ground floor level with access to the external courtyard. The height of the atrium is fully expressed at the north and south facade, again giving the building the verticality and scale required in order for it to live with its near neighbour. The exposed concrete frame is a key feature of the building interior, continuing the sense of gravitas while also providing thermal mass to assist with the building’s predominantly natural ventilation and cooling strategy.

2982 2982 n44 bgswebsite

2982 2982 n44 bgswebsite

Architect’s view

The project is a real enhancement to the university campus, both in terms of aesthetics and community. The building complements the iconic Muirhead Tower and also provides much needed space for postgraduate students through modern lecture theatres, break-out work areas and a social hub at its centre. The landscaped courtyard to the west creates an open and welcoming shared area for students and staff to enjoy. It also redefines one edge of the ‘Green Heart’ masterplan due for completion in 2019, which will see the reinstatement of a high quality landscaped environment extending as it once did from the north gate to the university’s famous Clock Tower.

Gary Collins, principal director, Berman Guedes Stretton

2982 clean sections 2

2982 clean sections 2


Project data

Tender date April 2014
Start on site date August 2014
Completion date April 2016 (Occupation September 2016)
Contract duration 20 months
Structural engineer Price & Myers
M&E consultant Hoare Lea
Cost consultant Turner & Townsend
CDM co-ordinator Steven Barnsley Associates
Main contractor Clegg Construction
Funding Business School/University funded with a generous donation from the Alan Walters Family
Gross internal floor area 3,000m²
Form of contract and/or procurement Single Stage D&B (JCT)
Total cost £6.9 million

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