Sir William Henry Bragg Building; Sir William Henry Bragg Building;

Sir William Henry Bragg Building, University of Leeds, Leeds

Repurposing an old school building into a space for 21st century science

The Sir William Henry Bragg Building incorporates the old School of Mining, built in 1930, which has been sensitively repurposed, extended with a new storey and connected to a new seven-storey complex for learning and research. The £96m facility provides an impressive range of environments to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.

Named after a former professor at the University who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915, the building brings together the School of Physics and Astronomy and the School of Computing. It houses some of the most advanced electron microscope technology in the UK, including the Royce Institute and Wolfson Imaging Facility. As a trusted advisor, Arup was appointed as technical consultant from RIBA Stage 0. 

Unlocking the power of advanced modelling

Located near a busy road, it is vital that passing traffic does not interfere with ultra-sensitive laboratory instruments. We carried out complex vibration analysis, using a range of tools to identify acceptable vibration criteria. We also used modelling to achieve electromagnetic compatibility, developing a mix of active and passive shields for sensitive equipment rooms.

Our acousticians advised on measures to mitigate sound impacts on the environment and building users, recommending plant with noise reduction capabilities and mechanisms to control reverberation in teaching spaces. Through modelling of demolition and construction noise impacts, we developed cost-effective and temporary mitigation options to avoid disruption of learning and research.

Our modelling led to substantial cost savings for the client. Space planning for equipment that causes electromagnetic interference contributed to cost savings of £1m. Designing-in modern methods of construction validated the use of a largely precast concrete superstructure, rather than an in-site concrete frame, significantly speeding up construction time and cutting costs and construction waste.

Experience tells us that the big questions in science will only be tackled when researchers from different disciplines collaborate on solving problems. From the outset, that has been at the heart of the design brief for the new Bragg building. The building is a place for people to collaborate. ” Professor Nora de Leeuw Executive Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Leeds

Optimising energy performance in a high tech environment

With specialist research laboratories and high density teaching spaces, operational energy demand in the building was going to be high. Our mission, therefore, was to reduce this as much as possible.

During design, we hosted workshops and site visits with users to understand their needs. Working closely with the client, we identified systems that could interface with the existing building, enhance the environment for users and improve maintenance. We supervised installation on site, including weekly site visits, presenting observations and defects to the client, minimising delays and contributing to a successful soft landing.

We carried out detailed modelling to optimise the cooling strategy for both efficiency and performance, working closely with chiller manufacturers. Through climate scenario modelling, we evaluated the potential of building systems to cope with future conditions. Additional modelling for the electron microscopy suite included computational fluid dynamics modelling to provide airflow and temperature plots for the space.

We also collaborated with the client and contractor to reposition the substation to the basement, overcoming tight space constraints, preventing electromagnetic and harmonic impacts on sensitive equipment and supporting the maintenance strategy. A centralised supervisor control and data acquisition (SCADA) system offered a graphic interface for 24/7 monitoring and alerts, empowering operational management for efficiency.

My thanks go to all the teams who have been involved in this project, internal and external, from inception right through to completion. I am delighted that this building will be a collaborative, supportive and safe environment for the entire University community and will foster a culture of collaboration, across the University and beyond.

Steve Gilley Director of Estates and Facilities, University of Leeds

Contributing to our low carbon future

Retaining the Portland stone façade of the Grade II listed old School of Mining building significantly reduced embodied carbon, while preserving heritage. Two bridges connect to the new-build element, where low carbon interventions include minimising material use, using concrete with significant cement replacement (GGBS) and implementing the BRE Global Eco-Reinforcement scheme. Further savings were achieved by leaving precast concrete exposed internally, which minimised follow-on trades and cut waste, reducing carbon. This also improved the building’s thermal mass, flattening peak heating and cooling loads.

The Sir William Henry Bragg Building contributes to several UN Sustainable Development Goals, including sustainable cities and communities, quality education and industry, innovation and infrastructure. Creating a world-class engineering and physical sciences hub, it will play a key role in the development of new materials, nanotechnology, pharmaceutical manufacturing, low-energy electronics and robotics, tackling current and future challenges.

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