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Competition: New Academic Building, Portsmouth university

Portsmouth image by lewis clarke
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The RIBA has launched a contest to design a £60 million landmark building at the University of Portsmouth

The winning multidisciplinary team will deliver a new 20,000m2 combined departmental complex featuring new premises for the university’s Faculty of Business and Law and Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences along with a public ‘destination dining experience’ and administrative facilities.

The New Academic Building project, planned to complete in 2023, will create a gateway structure on a large undeveloped plot (pictured) on Anglesea Road next to Portsmouth’s Grade II-listed Victoria Park, which is part of a local conservation area. 

In its brief, the university says: ‘The New Academic Building is intended to serve as a northern gateway to the University’s city centre campus and will bring together the Faculty of Business and Law with the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in one building.

‘As well as providing accommodation for academic research and teaching and learning, it is anticipated that the New Academic Building will also provide student support services, general administrative space and potentially a destination dining experience that would be open to members of the general public.’

Portsmouth university was founded in 1908, expanded rapidly during the latter half of the 20th century and now has 25,000 students and 2,500 staff. Its annual income is around £200 million.

In 2017, Architecture PLB drew up a £400 million masterplan to transform the university over the following 15-20 years. The New Academic Building is a key part of the masterplan and aims to create a new gateway to the city centre campus from the north.

Architecture PLB won planning permission for a 33-storey student accommodation tower on the plot – previously home to a Victorian baths – in 2011 but the scheme was shelved the following year.

The new building – expected to be BREEAM Outstanding – will feature an auditorium, two lecture theatres, several classrooms, 50 tutorial rooms, two IT labs, and a 500-capacity restaurant.

First-round judges will include Fiona Bell director of estates and campus at the University of Portsmouth and Cindy Walters, director of Walters & Cohen Architects, who will be acting as RIBA architect adviser.

Five teams will be invited to draw up conceptual proposals during the latest competition’s second stage. A £20,000 honorarium will be awarded to all finalists submitting tenders. Around £7 million has been set aside for professional fees on the project.

The deadline for applications is midday, 4 July.

How to apply

Visit the competition website for more information

Contact details

RIBA Competitions
No 1 Aire Street

Tel: 0113 203 1490
Email: riba.competitions@riba.org 



Bernie Topham, chief operating officer and deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Portsmouth

Bernie Topham

Bernie Topham

Bernie Topham

Why are your holding an international contest for a New Academic Building at the University of Portsmouth?

The University of Portsmouth is ambitious for a new building that will inspire and excite students, staff and the wider community, and become a symbol of pride for the University and the people and City of Portsmouth. The competition will be managed by the RIBA and is expected to draw entries from architects around the world.

We expect a competition managed by RIBA to attract high quality design responses and send a clear signal to contestants that we have a commitment to design excellence, fairness and impartiality. A RIBA competition is justified by the technical nature of the university’s requirements, the desire to consider innovative solutions and to allow appropriate engagement with participants during the development of design proposals in response to the university’s evolving brief.

What is your vision for the New Academic Building?

The university’s objectives for the New Academic Building are:

● For a design of exceptional quality and architectural distinction.

● To provide a world-class student experience with access to state of the art learning facilities and support functions.

● To be a space that fosters collaboration and creativity.

● To be a space that is designed to accommodate a diverse and changing group of users.

● To be an inspiring place in which to work.

● To be a space with great places to relax, eat and socialise.

● To be a space for conferences and University events.

● To provide an environment that delights staff and students and enhances feelings of wellbeing.

● At the same time as promoting great design, the building needs to be fully functional and to provide efficient and effective operation

The New Academic Building is intended to serve as a northern gateway to the university’s city centre campus and will bring together the Faculty of Business and Law with parts of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences into the building.

As well as providing accommodation for academic research, learning and teaching, it is anticipated that the New Academic Building will also provide student support services, general administrative space and potentially, open spaces, and a destination dining experience that would be open the public.

The site for the proposed New Academic Building is located within the city’s Guildhall and Victoria Park Conservation Area, lies within a Grade II registered park and the setting of a number of important listed buildings.

Careful consideration will need to be given to how the development enhances the unique character of the conservation area, whilst meeting the university’s aspirations for the proposed New Academic Building.

The University of Portsmouth is already building an indoor sports facility, which is intended to be the first BREEAM outstanding indoor sports building in the UK. Its seeking to achieve a similar accreditation for the New Academic Building, together with a Display Energy Certificate “A” rating for energy efficiency. There will be a requirement for sustainable construction, low carbon design and sustainable flexible use throughout the life of the building.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We expect the best architects from around the world to submit for the university’s new academic building. We have no specific views about the type of architectural practice that should apply. However, what will be important is their understanding of the brief and their experience of designing high quality and deliverable buildings, which are relevant to inspiring first class educational experience.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The university has developed a comprehensive estate masterplan, which will be carried out over a number of years. Work has started on the construction of the University of Portsmouth’s new sustainable indoor sports facility. The facility will be available for student, staff and community use and is intended to be completed in Spring 2021.

The £53 million facility forms part of the first major phase of the university’s estate masterplan, which aims to reshape its city centre campus. Facilities include an eight court sports hall, eight lane 25m swimming pool, fitness suite, multipurpose studios, squash courts, climbing wall, a ski simulator and teaching space.

The building design also aims to set new standards for sustainability and to be one of the UK’s greenest indoor sports facilities.

Are there any other recent gateway university building projects you have been impressed by?

We have scoured the world for inspiration when considering our aspirations for the new build, which show we are not isolationist without singling out any particular projects and thus potentially influencing potential design teams.

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