May 27, 2014

Building student accommodation? Our top three tips for making it work

Group managing director of Stewart Milne Timber Systems Alex Goodfellow takes a look at three student accommodation projects the company has recently been working on and the lessons that can be drawn from all of them.

We’ve worked on a number of student accommodation projects in the last few years. Each one of them has been a success in their own right. At the same time though, they have also shared some common characteristics.  

That’s seen us build student accommodation across the UK. Of them all, the three that stand out would have to be our projects with the universities of Essex, Plymouth and Bradford.

While Essex and Plymouth achieved BREEAM “Excellent” standard, Bradford University was the first multi-residential building in the UK to attain BREEAM “Outstanding” rating, and one of only 15 worldwide upon its completion.

Our experience on each of these projects has taught us a few things about some of the key ingredients that make for a successful student accommodation development.

So, here are our top three:

  1. Take a fabric first approach: on all three of these projects we took a fabric first design approach. That meant the energy performance of each development could be achieved primarily through the buildings’ envelopes. This resulted in superior thermal performance, achieved with greater insulation and low air tightness values, while also minimising thermal bridging on each of the projects. A fabric first approach was ultimately integral in reaching the developments’ respective BREEAM targets.

  2. Consider offsite construction: Time is of the essence when it comes to student accommodation. Deadlines can’t be missed, with universities needing their residences complete in time for students returning from the holidays and a new batch just beginning. Offsite construction allows you to build quickly in factory conditions. In Essex this meant we could deliver 19 four-storey townhouses in just 11 weeks and all seven blocks at Plymouth were delivered in 16 weeks.

  3. Use timber: this might sound like something we would say (!), but timber frame was genuinely the ideal material for each of these projects. With challenging sustainability targets, low embodied carbon and speed of build, such important factors, using a timber build solution was the best way of achieving both without impacting on the bottom line.

Those are just three ways student accommodation projects can achieve the speed of build and sustainability they require in a cost effective way. But there are plenty more where that came from.

Be sure to keep an eye on our blog. We’ll be announcing our plans to work on one of the UK’s most sustainable new student accommodation projects to date. Undoubtedly there’ll be even more to be learned from that.

In the meantime, tell us what you think makes great student accommodation by getting in touch or tweeting us @TimberSystems.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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