A showcase of ultimate sustainability

The Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia has been dubbed the UK’s Greenest building. Certainly, it is one of the UK’s most sustainable. It is also the first large scale building to target both Passivhaus Certification and BREEAM Outstanding (the highest rating), two of the most rigorous sustainable environmental standards.

Sound-absorbing cement-bonded wood wool panels from Troldtekt are often used as acoustic ceilings in schools and educational institutions
Photo: DarrenCarter/MorganSindall + NickCaville/BDP

This new university building was designed by architects Architype, in collaboration with contractor Morgan Sindall. Architype is a vibrant and dynamic architectural practice, its purpose being to design life-enhancing, genuinely sustainable architecture. Consequently, it is a thriving community where business and students work closely together, building on founding principles of knowledge sharing and supporting businesses locally.

The layout is clear to visitors, academia and start-up companies who rent space. Internally the building exudes a sense of calmness and freshness due to the use of materials without harmful substances but also in the way spaces are handled. The bold, crisp and contemporary design is due to a rigorous plan and elevational treatment that allows each material to take its appropriate place both functionally and aesthetically, internally and externally.

The research and experimentation was considerable from testing the strength of locally grown timber to developing cassette systems for straw thatch that could be fabricated in the winter months when thatching is normally not possible. All this minimises the emissions associated with construction by using materials such as Troldtekt acoustic panels that were chosen for many of the ceilings throughout the complex for their combination of high performance, aesthetic appearance and their  contribution to a more sustainable building.

The rationale behind all this was to make the building a live demonstrator of the performance of renewable materials by making it possible to see any change over time and to understand the impacts. This is why the Enterprise Centre is the first international building to offer Passivhaus performance alongside renewable materials.

Embodied within is a marriage of carbon monitoring systems which demonstrate the impacts on energy efficiency and carbon offsetting. Ceiling, floors and walls are exposed so that the configuration of the installed materials can be readily demonstrated. If required, new materials can be substituted over time to provide up-to-date knowledge of materials.

The natural and recycled materials used are an extraordinary palette. For example, sub-base aggregate was recycled from the demolition of a hospital near Norwich. A diamond polished floor replaces the need for carpets and lowered the carbon content of interior materials, and interior glulam beams make up the main timber frame. The thatch for wall panels constitutes an innovative panelling system of hundreds of cassettes of straw making the Centre the largest exterior thatched building in Europe.