University building wins RIBA award

A high-profile building that completed a long-standing master plan at the University of Birmingham has won a national RIBA Sustainability Award, thanks to the efforts of environmental property consultants Couch Perry Wilkes.

The Bramall Music Building, which is home to the university’s music department, was completed late last year. Designed by Glen Howells Architects it houses a 450-seat concert hall, rehearsal rooms and offices.

The building completes the Grade II-listed Aston Webb Semi-Circle – originally conceived in 1900 – at the university’s Edgbaston campus.

Richard Swannick, director at Couch Perry Wilkes, said: “The project was a real challenge for everyone involved as the new music department needed to match the existing, century-old red-brick buildings while meeting modern construction and environmental standards.

“Couch Perry Wilkes provided mechanical and electrical engineering design services throughout, including the design of low-energy heating, ventilation and lighting systems, as well as advising the architect and structural engineer about ways to optimise the building fabric.”

With lighting being the biggest energy user for this kind of project, devising an effective system that wouldn’t derail the low-energy aspirations of the project was one of the biggest challenges faced by the team.

“While the system we developed for the Bramall Music Building may not be unique, it is certainly very rare,” Richard continued. “By using high-efficiency LED lighting with DMX dimming controls in the auditorium, we were able to increase lamp life to 25 years while reducing the energy load to just 15% of that found in other modern auditoriums. The lighting throughout the rest of the building uses dimmer controls and sensors to limit energy expenditure while the emergency lighting system operates from a key low power system, also using LEDs. This reduces the number of batteries required to just 20% of a typical build.”

The team at Couch Perry Wilkes also advised the design team on ways to improve the air tightness of the building facade to deliver low u and solar-transmitter values, creating an exceptional thermal energy envelope. This limits energy loss through the fabric of the building while minimising heat gain, meaning less energy is needed to maintain a comfortable internal environment.

Heat recovery ventilation systems were also installed throughout the building while all services have been zoned, both for ease of use and to ensure they are only activated as required – improving operating efficiency throughout the building.

Richard concluded: “While the project involved a series of complex challenges, we’re delighted with the results that have been achieved and that this has been recognised with the RIBA Sustainability Award. The university is now home to a state-of-the-art facility, built with sustainability in mind, which we hope will prove just as long-lasting as its century-old neighbours.”

The structural engineers for the Bramall Music Building were URS Scott Wilson and the main contractor was BAM Construction.