Coventry University. Credit: Simon Kennedy; Coventry University. Credit: Simon Kennedy;

Coventry University, Coventry

How do you design a building that becomes a learning tool?

Coventry University commissioned the design of a new Engineering and Computing Building (ECB) with the aim to bring industry, education and research together. The new building, which includes an engineering centre with flight simulators and a high-precision wind tunnel testing facility, is part of the wider estate’s refurbishment. It houses over 4,000 students and has two lecture theatres that can be subdivided for conferences.

Technology and innovation

The ECB faculty wanted to utilise technology as a research and learning feature and to showcase future thinking in information and communication technology (ICT) provision to users. Although the building makes use of innovation and technology, the architecture was designed with sustainability credentials in mind. Examples of innovation and technology in the building include the timber mullion system adopted for the curtain walling, the complex geometry adopted for the facades and the shading hoods that limit solar gain, the natural ventilation system, utilising a Building Management System that controls the opening and closing of windows. As well as achieving a unique piece of architecture these technological components have a pedagogic function, as they enable the building to be a learning tool for students.

Sustainable approach

The environmental performance of the building can be monitored by students on campus computers, windows are provided into plant rooms and the structural systems are fully exposed. To achieve a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating, our multidisciplinary teams applied a range of sustainable technologies including, a solar orientated location, shading hoods protecting southern facing windows, natural ventilation and extensive green roofing.

Project Summary

4,000 student capacity



Coventry University. Credit: Simon Kennedy Coventry University. Credit: Simon Kennedy

A new approach to learning

From the beginning, Arup’s architects rejected the typical model for an academic building – a series of separate independent spaces united by a circulation space - and designed a series of interconnected, flexible spaces instead. This allowed staff and students to interact as part of the wider faculty community and break out of the confines of lecture theatres and classrooms into more informal spaces.

A place for people

People are at the heart of this design. From the strategic level to the smallest detail, our architects focussed on how people would use the building and undertook workshops with teachers from the different departments, to explore the university’s vision. The result is a building that has proved popular with staff and students alike – so much so that the university now opens it to students around-the-clock.

A dynamic experience

The whole building can be used as a learning tool, not just the lecture theatres. In one zone, floating popular spaces known as ‘The Planets’ hang from structural steelwork. A stepped atrium space connects all floors above the two storey workshop below. This atrium space is utilised for circulation and socialising. It also features a number of collaborative learning spaces, where students can study in groups or as individuals. A number of these spaces are formed as lightweight platforms supported by a series of diagonal steel columns marked with colour coded forces that reflect the structural analysis. Engineering students use these spaces to study the forces at work on the concrete and steel. Elsewhere, exposed services are closely coordinated into electrical, mechanical and public health zones so that students can follow their path around the building.

A money saving design

Every element in the facility’s concrete frame has been maximised to produce a robust and dramatic structure. The design-and-build approach rationalised the building down to the last detail. For example, with everything exposed there were no layers of complexity and there was no need for a huge fixture, fittings and equipment budget, which greatly reduced costs. Exposed services are provided in the main, and the structure is exposed, minimising the use of ceilings and linings to materials. The prefabrication of elements, including façade and internal wall panels led to an efficiencies in the programme, and quality control.

Arup’s design for the building has been hugely successful. Students use the building’s open and collaborative spaces both socially and academically, working together in groups or as individuals. ” Gerry Ackerman Deputy Director of Estates and Property, Coventry University