The campus of the future

How the campus masterplan is reshaping the University’s estate and helping to regenerate the city

The University’s campus masterplan has mapped out an exciting new vision for how the institution’s estate will evolve over the next decade. 

In this feature, we take a look at three major projects, all at different stages of progress, which will significantly reshape the University and what it can offer its staff, students and wider community.

A new dawn for engineering and design

The creation of a flagship new home for the University’s engineering and design communities is arguably the most transformative project in the masterplan. The Babbage Building is a striking new-build and refurbishment of the existing building of the same name, which will create more than 10,000m² of research and teaching space, housing some of the most technologically advanced equipment in the institution. And it’s also the first step in reshaping not just the western edge of the campus, but creating new green space right in its heart.

“It’s probably the most complex estates project the University has ever undertaken,” says Tim Brooksbank, Interim Director of Estates and Facilities. “We are taking the Babbage Building back to its structural frame, which presents a very different technical challenge. And much of the equipment needs to be coordinated around the structure – you can’t just wheel it through the door when it’s finished.

Visual concept of the Babbage Building

We have elements such as slotted bed-plates to accommodate heavy equipment and seismic testing, along with the sub-sonic wind tunnel that will be planned into the construction. So the facility has, to some extent, been shaped by the equipment it will house.” 

Designed by international award-winning architectural practice Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, the building will be as sustainable as it is striking, with the project saving a significant amount of carbon thanks to its utilisation of the Babbage frame and its embodied carbon. Once complete, it will become the new home of the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, and provide valuable additional space for the School of Art, Design and Architecture

“For centuries, engineers have been our key innovators, developing forward thinking solutions to some of the planet’s biggest problems,” says Professor Deborah Greaves OBE FREng, Head of the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics. “But if we want them to continue on that path, we need to offer facilities that will enable them to harness the latest technologies and push their creative boundaries. This new building will provide that state-of-the-art setting to inspire the engineers of tomorrow, giving us the ultimate place to bring together students, academics and industry in an environment that not only benefits them but also society as a whole.” 

“Plymouth is currently undergoing something of a creative revolution,” adds Professor Chris Bennewith, Head of the School of Art, Design and Architecture. “It is bringing design and digital innovation to the fore and ensuring the city’s creative sector can realise its potential and offer new opportunities, spaces and skills. This new facility will enhance the University’s place at the forefront of that, and mean we can continue to attract and nurture the design stars of the future.”

The vision for the multimillion pound building has been developed by the project architects with University staff over the space of 12 months, as well as a virtual public consultation in July 2020, which further influenced its internal and external facilities and appearance. Once the project is complete, the University will then move forward with demolishing the aged Brunel Building, opposite, to create an attractive open and green space that will extend right up to the library.

“It’ll provide an entirely new aspect as you look westwards from the centre of the campus,” says Adam Jones, Head of Capital Development. “And it will be linked into a wider public realm scheme that improves the route from the Railway Station, through Portland Villas and right across the campus to North Hill. So this is not simply the creation of an exciting new facility; it is the project that enables the transformation of the campus itself.” 

New engineering and design facility view 2
New engineering and design facility
New engineering and design facility

Intercity place

Towering over the railway station – and pretty much everything else in the Plymouth skyline – the 11-storey Intercity House is a landmark for those entering the city. Designed by Howard Cavanagh and Ian Campbell as part of the post-war civic plan, the building has been home to thousands of rail professionals since it opened in 1962. Now, thanks to the University, it will become an iconic setting for generations of health professionals to learn and train for the future.

The University signed the lease for what is now called Intercity Place in August last year, and has commenced a planned 22-month project to reconfigure, refurbish and rejuvenate the building. In the process, it has capped a wider project by the city to transform and regenerate the entire area in and around the train station.

Intercity place

“It’s an iconic building and it’s unlikely that any developer other than the University could have taken on such a challenge,” says Adam Jones. “The University has been absolutely instrumental in the wider multimillion-pound regeneration of this part of the city, which includes concourse improvements, a new multistorey car park, a hotel site, and a future plot earmarked for us. It will change the arrival experience of millions of passengers – and the first building they will see will be the University’s.” 

The improvements to the facade of the building will be one of the most complicated aspects of the project, and will require it to be clad entirely in scaffolding to facilitate the work. A great deal of mechanical and electrical work is also needed to ensure the heating and cooling of the building is sustainable.

“We are taking a very ‘leaky’ 1960s building and transforming its EPC rating, which is quite remarkable for a refurbishment of this size and era,” says Colin McBride, Capital Project Manager. “And a novel challenge is that we are working within a live railway environment, which requires approval from Network Rail, GWR, the Department for Transport and the Office of Rail and Road.”

The interior of the building has been stripped out, and the contractor will begin the process of adapting the rooms to meet the vision provided by Stride Treglown, the project architects, and the Faculty of Health. This will include teaching and clinical skills space for nurses, midwives, paramedics, physiotherapists and other allied health professionals.

When it opens, Intercity Place will be home to inter-professional clinical skills facilities for the University’s Allied Health Professions and Nursing and Midwifery, as well as additional educational services. 

Professor Sube Banerjee, Dean of the Faculty of Health, said: “We provide more healthcare professional graduates for the South West than any other higher education institution – and the redevelopment of Intercity Place will only strengthen our exceptional clinical and academic learning. With our medical facilities on the North campus, our nursing schools in Truro and Exeter, and Intercity Place transforming our city centre footprint, we have truly become a faculty for the region.”

East Elevation Station
lose up facade station
East Elevation station

Brain Research & Imaging Centre 

The development of the University’s ‘north campus’ – situated adjacent to the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHPNT) – has been one of the main features of the wider estate in recent years. Construction of the Derriford Research Facility, in particular, has enabled a critical mass of medical expertise to be collocated next to the region’s biggest primary care hospital, where many academics in the Faculty of Health also work as consultants. Those links between academia and frontline care – from ‘bench to bedside’ – have been further strengthened by the creation of the Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC) on Plymouth Science Park. A collaboration between the University, the research charity DDRC Healthcare and UHPNT, BRIC transforms the facilities available to the Faculty of Health’s community of renowned researchers working in fields such as neurology, clinical psychology and cognition.

BRIC building development, December 2020

The two-storey facility has seven cutting-edge laboratories, and has been developed through an expansion and extension of the original DDRC Healthcare building – home to the city’s hyperbaric chamber and other labs dedicated to diving associated diseases. The project, which was led by DDRC with University support, took a total of 23 months to complete and was finally finished in March.

“BRIC represents the culmination of a long journey for us,” says Stephen D Hall, Director of BRIC and Professor of Human Neuroimaging in the School of Psychology. “It’s a facility that enables our internationally excellent researchers to take their work to the ‘next level’. We’ve always asked those important questions that draw upon our expertise from the single molecule to the whole human, exploring the basic mechanisms of cognition and behaviour and applying advanced computational methods to improve our understanding of the brain in health and disease. But with BRIC, we can now translate that into actual outcomes that promise to improve the lives of patients.”

At the heart of that promise is the MRI suite, boasting the most advanced 3-Tesla scanner in the South West. The scanner, which was lowered into the facility by crane in October, will be used to explore a variety of topics including how the human brain encodes socially relevant information to guide our decisions, and how the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain work together.

In addition to its research potential, BRIC will welcome its first postgraduate students in human neuroscience for teaching sessions in the new academic year. For the DDRC, BRIC will enable its team to advance their studies of the relationship between oxygen and the brain, which are at the forefront of hyperbaric medicine. And for the UHPNT, the MRI scanner will not only facilitate increased collaborative research projects, but will be available for patients’ use.

“This a milestone development for the University, the city, and the region – the creation of the most advanced multi-modal neuroimaging facility in the South West,” adds Stephen. “And it’s one that brings us closer to our city partners and our communities.” “All three of these projects – BRIC, Intercity Place and the new Babbage Building – have sustainability at their heart,” finishes Tim Brooksbank. “By taking existing buildings and reworking them, we are making a significant saving on their carbon footprint, and that is something to be celebrated.”

BRIC front
BRIC building development, December 2020
BRIC impression (rear)