A state of the art new energy centre for the University of Liverpool, right in the heart of the campus.
Following the opening of the University of Liverpool’s new Victoria Gallery and Museum, we were invited to design a new energy centre nearby to serve the whole campus. The slow growth of the University had led to an inefficient services network, which they wanted to rectify with new facilities housed in a state-of-the art building.
Our client group was made up of staff from the design and energy teams, facilities management and academia – a broad range of people who together ensured that all sides of the University were represented throughout the project. They were keen to engage students during the process, and of course, the University needed to remain open and functional throughout.
An existing university car park was chosen as the site for the new energy centre, primarily due to its proximity to the existing network. However, it was on the main pedestrian route and in an architecturally sensitive part of the campus, surrounded by listed buildings and Waterhouse’s distinctive Liverpool Royal Infirmary and boiler house in particular. The idea to locate a plant building in this historic part of Liverpool was somewhat controversial, so we needed to tread carefully and design a building which responded to its sensitive setting and yet had a unique, inventive quality.
Owing to its prominent location and importance to the university’s profile, we were keen to develop a distinctive building, which we termed HIP (Heating Infrastructure Project). Although we were acutely aware of a need to respond sensitively to the Conservation Area context, we wanted to reflect the building’s use through its appearance.
We devised a visually striking, but technically quite complex, cladding system, which became the pivotal element of the whole project. The building needed to be flexible to allow for the plant within to be altered and added to over time, so, we designed the entire façade to be ventilated. A base of patterned durbar plate, glass and steel grating is overlaid by repeating anodised aluminium panels, organised to allow air to move in and out of the building. Diamond shaped panels higher up were specifically designed to accommodate the flue extracts within this bespoke system, all the while creating an eye-catching finish. The sequence of installation and construction also needed to be carefully tested.
The scale and proportions of the new energy centre were influenced by the heritage context. The main bulk of the building sits below the Royal Infirmary, and despite the chimney being 46m high to meet regulations, it is constructed in stainless steel and kept as slender and polished as possible to reduce its impact on the skyline. Pitched roofs also mimic the gables of Waterhouse’s neighbouring boiler house.
Reducing energy consumption was obviously a key driver for this project, and we embraced this in the building fabric as well as with improvements to the plant itself – glazed areas expose the inner workings of the building whilst minimising the need for artificial lighting, and aluminium sheets on the roof prevent thermal overheating. Altogether, the energy centre is saving 6,700 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, equivalent to taking 3,000 cars off the road.
In addition to these savings, the project became an on-campus educational resource. Over 160 students experienced a live construction environment and engaged with the project team to learn about various aspects of construction, including environmental impact and noise level restrictions, planning constraints and sustainable construction methods. Progress could also be viewed continuously on a specially installed webcam.
The building went on to win a Regional RIBA Award in 2011, one of the first of its kind to do so, proving invention and fine architecture is possible in buildings of all scales, budgets and functions.