University of Exeter Forum
Structural Award Highly Commended 2012
Building Owner/ Client: University of Exeter
Location: Exeter, Devon, UK
Architect: Wilkinson Eyre Architects
Structural Engineer: Buro Happold
Main Contractor/ Builder: Sir Robert McAlpine
Joinery Company: Hazelwood Carpentry Contractors Ltd
Wood Supplier: Constructional Timber Manufacturers Ltd
Gridshell roof contractor: SH Structures
Wood Species & products Used: English and Welsh oak, German spruce glulam.
The Forum is a new hub for students at Exeter University, it provides a new entrance for the University’s Streatham campus and houses new student facilities and teaching accommodation beneath a soaring timber gridshell roof: the largest in the UK at over 3200m2.
The Forum links essential facilities such as the Great Hall, library, lecture theatres and the Student Guild along a new galleried, indoor street, lined with cafes, a shop and a bank. A student services centre takes a prominent position within the new building, broadening and enhancing the range and availability of pastoral services that the University offers. A newly built state-of-the-art 400 seat auditorium, specially commissioned public art, landscaped open spaces and refurbished library complete the Forum, making it the heart of the social and academic life of the University.
Wilkinson Eyre’s starting point for the Forum project was the natural features of Exeter’s hilly Streatham campus which strongly influenced the use of natural materials within the building including the prominent use of timber. The orientation and arrangement of the building and its adjacent landscaped piazzas respond to the contours of the hillside setting which also informs the centrepiece of the Forum project: an undulating timber gridshell roof designed in conjunction with engineering experts, Buro Happold.
The roof is constructed as a triangulated nodal gridshell structure using glued laminated spruce beams connected with steel nodes. The roof connects the functions of the building with each other and the landscape and the perimeter profile uses the malleable qualities of green oak to define an elegant curved edge with thin oak timber slats installed to the triangular soffits between the structural beams.
At the north western end of the Entrance Piazza stands a new entrance building that provides a reception area for the University. The smooth curve of the entrance building rises one storey, tracing the northern elevation of the Great Hall above a covered walkway before merging with the main Forum Building.
The Forum is an airy, galleried volume between existing buildings which shelters and unifies a series of new student-focused spaces. The timber slats and triangular form of the roof soffit is referenced in the use of oak slats to the gallery balustrades and main internal staircases. Slatted oak cladding is also used to clad the new 400 seat Auditorium on the south side of the building.
The Auditorium has a curved and inclined brick façade with a low level glazing forming a perimeter slot and affording views out to the landscape. The stepped soffit of the Auditorium uses lime washed oak slats and has integrated linear light fittings.
A roof top terrace is created adjacent the existing student dining area. The terrace sits within the undulating roof with views across the copper roof and towards the city centre to the south. The terrace has a curved slatted oak balustrade that rises up to the rear to adjoin the existing building and provide an eyebrow with shade.