A new campus building at the University of Sunderland is now under construction. But this is no ordinary university facility.


In this article, Bob Welsh, General Manager of architectural aluminium glazing specialist, Technal, looks at how innovative use of curtain walling is helping to create an iconic building that will offer one of the best student experiences in higher education – and host world-class paralympic athletes in the lead up to the 2012 London Olympics.


Designed by FaulknerBrowns and now under construction by Morgan Ashurst, the £12m CitySpace facility will be a landmark sports and social centre – the flagship project of the University of Sunderland’s £75m redevelopment of its city centre campus.


When complete towards the end of 2009, it will boast a wide range of indoor sporting and social facilities, including a six badminton court sports hall, 70 station fitness suite, sports massage and injuries centre, multi-purpose room, indoor climbing wall, and retail, catering, leisure and exhibition spaces. It will also be a strong addition to the University’s support for world athletes following its selection as an Paralympic Training Centre for the 2012 London Games.


And the scheme is playing an important role in the city itself. It will help enhance the student experience, boosting the wider community in Sunderland and continuing the regeneration of the city. Local people from across the region will also be encouraged to use the centre, as well as other facilities on the City Campus.


Further plans for the campus, which has been master planned by FaulknerBrowns, include a 200-bed hotel and conference facilities, new student accommodation, and a new university square.


Architectural Approach


Whilst providing a range of flexible and highly efficient internal spaces, the design of this ambitious project will dramatically change the face of the City Campus, and will add interest at street level from its prominent location on one of the main routes into Sunderland.


The architects’ response has been to create a bold façade comprising pre-cast concrete panels with coloured glass openings, in a striking random pattern. The solid mass of the south elevation then moves to a more open, highly glazed façade on the east side of the building that incorporates the main entrance and overlooks the university square.


Realising the Design


The innovative use of glazing is central to the design of this dynamic, landmark building. However, the challenge for the architects was to give the appearance of a bespoke façade but with the cost, lead-time and performance advantages of a proven, standardised system.


FaulknerBrowns had already used Technal’s new MX SSG structural sealant curtain walling for an earlier project at the university – to some acclaim – when it transformed a former 1960s campus building into a bright and dramatic gateway to the university. This scheme was shortlisted for a British Council for Offices refurbishment award, and won the Special Prize for Cladding and Roofing and was voted overall winner at the UK Aluminium in Renovation Awards, for its innovative use of aluminium glazing.


For the CitySpace project, FaulknerBrowns have specified a highly engineered solution to realise their ambitious design, creating a distinctive envelope using two variations of Technal’s MX curtain walling system.


This suite of glazing options has been developed to provide specifiers with a more flexible series of aesthetic variations from a single façade system. This approach allows the appearance of the building envelope to be varied, with all the design and construction benefits of one fully integrated system – consistent sight lines and interfaces, simplified specification, greater cost efficiency, faster fabrication and installation, and reduced time on site.


The variations include a conventional ‘grid’ appearance for low to high rise buildings; an option to accentuate the horizontal or vertical profiles; flush glass façades; the use of an externally beaded frame for a ‘picture frame’ appearance, as well as sloped roofs, atria, canopies, valleys and pyramids, which are all visually consistent with vertical façades.


On the CitySpace project, the MX SSG structural sealant glazing option will, for the first time, be set into the irregular 3m by 4m L-shaped panels of concrete, giving the effect of frameless openings on the south elevation. The system uses double glazed units that are bonded onto the carrier frame, and a patented glass security support at each corner of the frame, to give the benefit of less visible aluminium and the appearance of clear expanses of glass.


The glazing between the concrete panels will be highlighted with the use of coloured interlayers for the laminated glass in five shades of green.


Creating a More Transparent Appearance


For the façade overlooking the university square, Technal’s MX Visible Grid curtain walling option will create a more transparent appearance and allow high levels of natural light for the main entrance, ground floor retail unit and fitness studio above.


Here, the horizontal profiles in the curtain walling will be staggered at different heights to add further interest, and a large section of the glazing will be set into a ‘grey box’. This will provide a visual connection with the award-winning Gateway campus building that features Technal’s glazing throughout.


Linear roof lights will be formed from Technal’s MX Sloped Glazing to throw natural light back into the triple height social space and the split-level fitness studio.


Commenting on the design of the CitySpace building, Iain Bramble, Project Architect at FaulknerBrowns, said, “This is an ambitious, landmark building that is seen very much as a catalyst for the regeneration of the Sunderland City campus.


“The MX SSG curtain wall is allowing us to create a striking, bespoke appearance for the most prominent façade of the new building, whilst also meeting the construction budget. It will give the effect of frameless openings set into an irregular pattern of concrete, and together with the full height grid curtain walling, it is helping us to realise our vision for an iconic building that will enhance the student experience and provide an Olympic standard sporting venue.


The CitySpace scheme will also have a number of sustainable features and is aiming to achieve a BREEAM excellent rating. It will benefit from ground source heat pumps, high levels of natural light, rainwater harvesting, passive ventilation, and the coloured glass will help to reduce solar gain.

CitySpace, Sunderland University


CitySpace, Sunderland University


CitySpace, Sunderland University


CitySpace, Sunderland University