Sibson Building wins top RIBA award

The University of Kent’s newest addition the Sibson Building is a distinctive W-shaped building that brings together two of the institution’s fastest-growing departments.

The new building is enhanced by its surrounding ancient woodlands, and with the help of ARCHICAD, the impact of the construction on the woods was minimised. New landscaping around the site was designed to improve the flow of traffic to and from nearby buildings, to make long-lasting improvements that benefit the whole campus.

Multi-Purpose Construction and Multi-Use Spaces

The University of Kent had a number of key factors in mind for improvement when it decided to commission a new building in 2013. As well as having a strong need for more space, the University wanted in particular to develop the site where the Sibson Building now stands. The new building serves as a conduit for traffic flowing from nearby student accommodation to the university’s sports centre, and the rest of the campus. With new landscaping as well as new construction the build has been able to achieve both objectives.

The Sibson Building is a collaboration in more ways than one. The building is shared by two schools: The Kent Business School and the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science. Both had grown too large for their existing accommodation, and a solution was needed for the space problems they were experiencing. And the building’s new design was developed to facilitate communication and cooperation between the schools.

Initially, the University had wanted to create three separate buildings on the site. There would be one building for each school, and a central building for teaching.

‘Penoyre & Prasad proposed an alternative solution: to combine the three buildings into one, while keeping the original space usage plan’.

The new scheme included shared teaching and learning spaces within the central part of the building, as well as specific areas designated for the two schools. Part of the original brief was to include design features that would encourage interaction and collaboration between students and staff, along with flexible furniture that would allow users to work and study in a range of different ways.

At the centre of the building lies an open and airy hall, filled with natural light
At the centre of the building lies an open and airy hall, filled with natural light

There’s a lot packed into the 8,000 square metres of space, too. At the centre of the building lies an open and airy hall, filled with natural light. Surrounding are spaces for each of the two schools, as well as central shared spaces. There are reception areas, teaching facilities, seminar rooms lecture theatres, IT suites, research spaces, social areas, and a dedicated financial trading room. And finally, there’s a cafe on the ground floor. This has become a popular shared learning and social space since the building opened, not just for the two schools housed in the building, but for students and staff from all over the campus.

How ARCHICAD Helped Preserve the Natural Landscape

Adding new construction in the midst of a mature woodland is often a cause for concern. There’s always some doubt about how well the building will fit into the existing environment. But the W-shape of the £33 million facility is an element that has helped ensure it fits into the surrounding landscape. The clean lines and the gentle curves of the building help draw the eye along its length smoothly, allowing it to blend in rather than dominating. Penoyre & Prasad’s zig-zag design winds amidst the woodland, with both the shape and the landscape ensuring that the building can’t be seen in its entirety from any singe vantage point. The size of the building, and its impact, is thus further minimised.

“For Penoyre & Prasad the project was a landmark, in that it was one of the first where the studio made extensive use of ARCHICAD. From start to finish, ARCHICAD was integral to mapping the building onto the environment in a way that enhanced the natural landscape, without substantially changing it”.

This required a detailed 3D survey of the site and surrounding woodland. Every tree was added to the ARCHICAD model at scale. The position of the building was adjusted to an exacting degree to ensure that as few trees as possible had to be removed.

The site posed an additional challenge, as it’s on a significant slope. Students walking into the building at ground level walk out the other end on a different level. ARCHICAD was instrumental in getting floor levels just right. The BIM model was used to calculate the most ideal balance between cut and fill, while ensuring both main entrances were perfectly level, while also fitting in with budget constraints.

Close collaboration between architects, staff and students using BIMx and ARCHICAD delivered the award-winning Sibson Building (Penoyre & Prasad)
Close collaboration between architects, staff and students using BIMx and ARCHICAD delivered the award-winning Sibson Building (Penoyre & Prasad)

Overcoming Sibson Building Challenges with ARCHICAD

This was a particularly challenging project, for two primary reasons: the challenging of bringing together two departments in the same building, and the additional challenge of protecting the woodland site while building upon it.

For Penoyre & Prasad, BIM and ARCHICAD were instrumental in meeting both challenges. For instance, the design team made extensive use of BIMx, which allowed them to show staff and students how the ARCHICAD model evolved as the project moved forward. The studio ran regular workshops for staff and students, which helped keep engagement high, and acted as an additional means of ensuring that the design was achieving its objectives.

The Penoyre & Prasad design team worked with main contractor Willmott Dixon, structural engineer Price & Myers, and M&E engineer Max Fordham.

‘Throughout the process the design team collaborated using IFC, with Penoyre & Prasad using ARCHICAD to hold the federated model’

ARCHICAD’s flexibility helped streamline the process. For instance, although Price & Myers were using Revit, by converting their files to IFC the data could be imported into ARCHICAD by Penoyre & Prasad for clash detection.

A zig-zag form winds between the trees minimising impact on the landscape (Penoyre & Prasad)
A zig-zag form winds between the trees minimising impact on the landscape (Penoyre & Prasad)

The Sibson Building design was technically challenging in a number of ways. One was the huge amount of coordination needed to enable the production, delivery, and construction of the steel and glulam timber roof of the building’s lecture theatre. Using ARCHICAD to federate all IFC information from each subcontractor helped immensely. This in turn helped not just in coordinating the construction of the roof, but also in ensuring that this delicate process was completed without impacting nearby trees.

An equally-challenging aspect of the design was the large roof lights that span the double-storey atrium in the centre of the building. This involved an iterative process where structural engineers would test spans and loadings, while engineers were investigating ventilation and thermal modelling, whilst Penoyre & Prasad explored form, light, and aesthetics. All the information generated was used to create a federated model that was made available to subcontractors, to ensure everyone had complete and current data.

Sibson Building A Spectacular Award-Winning Design

Sibson Building, University of Kent. Architect: Penoyre & Prasad

Since its completion in 2017 the Sibson Building has won numerous awards, including a RIBA National Award, and several RIBA regional awards, including the RIBA South East Award, and the RIBA South East Building Award. The building also netted senior architect Michael Fostiropoulos the RIBA South East Project Architect Award.