Blending the Old with the New - Integrating the university masterplan with the existing estate

Kevin Morgan
For universities, there are challenges in making meaningful connections between new facilities and the existing estate.

In its 2020 annual report, The Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) recalls the pre-pandemic multi-year rolling programmes of capital investment planned by institutions and predicts “real and concerted pressure on estate finances” in the wake of Covid-19¹.

This comes at a time when the university estate is more important than ever as:

  • A differentiator in the recruitment of students and staff in a competitive higher education market;
  • An enabler of teaching and research excellence;
  • A conduit to a positive community and partnership relations,
  • A critical element in the overall student experience.

University estates must respond to a complex range of drivers, designing facilities to align with the research imperatives and sociocultural needs of the academic community of today—and tomorrow.

High on the agenda­

  • Climate change
  • Energy consumption and energy security
  • Technology and smart campus initiatives
  • Brexit
  • Disaster planning
  • Third-party involvement in teaching,
  • Covid - we don’t yet know how the pandemic will shape the estate in the long-term.

Masterplan development continues in the sector, albeit with changes and delays for some. We can expect to see more institutions focusing on future planning, investing their time in this exercise while capital works are constrained, and revenue streams interrupted.

Blending the Old with the New

Typically, the masterplan aims to reinforce the institution’s identity, reflect a consistent brand image, embed placemaking principles and focus space planning needs to provide flexible buildings and solve problems of fragmented legacy facilities.

Blending the old and new is rarely straightforward, and needs detailed design, construction and operational exploration. Careful design is required of the external spaces linking the buildings and its associated landscaping; this too is a brand differentiator and likely subject to planning requirements for harmony with neighbouring surroundings. Utilities and infrastructure are usually more complex where new and existing facilities are to be combined – connecting assets with varying lifespan is a risk which requires thorough planning, investigation and understanding of future requirements.

Where there is a historic estate, heritage buildings are an important asset and bring unique challenges. A balance is needed between celebrating and preserving the history on the one hand, and on the other, giving it a present-day usability that supports contemporary and inclusive learning and accessibility for all.

There will be planning constraints, typically the need to sensitively conserve/repair/replace building fabric and improve energy efficiency to meet carbon targets in response to the climate emergency.

Universities are under pressure to find ways to invest in net zero carbon even when budgets are tight. It may be that new energy sources are not essential, if incremental changes in usage can be made, supported by modifications to building fabric and systems.

Combining new and existing projects inevitably brings programming complexity, any capital investment programme’s planning process is critical and demands detailed understanding of the interface between each building’s design, construction and occupancy schedule.

So why does this matter?

As the sector, and wider industry, steps out from the dark cloud of the pandemic it will be more important than ever to design for flexibility. There may be a need to review existing business cases, vary developed designs or redefine entire value systems. The types of challenges and how we approach them may differ but the goal of creating diverse, leading estates will remain.

Faithful+Gould works with many higher education institutions, leading programmes and projects that reflect the challenges discussed above. The University of Glasgow is a good example, where we are acting as Technical Advisors to support the integration of the £1bnnew campus masterplan, with its mix of research, teaching, infrastructure and public spaces, into the historic Gilmorehill campus. I am personally involved in the University’s critical utility infrastructure and landscaping project, which provides me with a detailed understanding of the challenges faced in integrating the masterplan with entire existing estate operations and allows me to explore the solutions with the vast stakeholder community.

Our multi-disciplinary team is also supporting universities across the UK with their Covid- resilient estate issues: providing strategic and operational estate adaptation and compliancy planning, health & safety input, post-lockdown restart, behavioural change support and post- occupancy review.

 (Image: University of Glasgow Masterplan Aerial view)

1 Higher Education Estates Management Report 2020, AUDE

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