Having once been the UK’s largest city after London during the time of the Norman Conquest, famed for suffering catastrophic bombing during World War II, and steeped in rich history, it may come as a surprise to some that Norwich could stand as a leader in sustainable innovation.
Certainly, few would pick it as the location for the UK’s next sustainable centre, but recently-announced plans call for the construction of the country’s greenest building and the showcasing of the the city’s world-class low-carbon business credentials.
The $23.5m NRP Enterprise Centre project is expected to be a world-class academic and working at the gateway to the University of East Anglia (UEA), and is a key component of the wider development plans for the Norwich Research Park (NRP).
The planned 4,000 square metre building would include teaching rooms, a lecture theatre, exhibition space, and a business ‘hatchery’ where as many as 25 fledgling low-carbon firms could be nurtured.
Energy efficiency is crucial, and it will be designed to the highest specifications, with additional emphasis placed on the use of renewable materials with very low-embodied energy expended during their production. Natural products, including timber, reed, chalk, lime and flint, sourced as locally as possible, have been chosen with the most unusual feature being prefabricated thatch panels to clad the external walls.
The building will harness energy from the sun, with heat distributed and controlled through an innovative circulation and ventilation system. Although a modern concept, the building materials are very traditional, including “rammed chalk” walls, built within timber frames and clad with straw thatch.
Engineered by BDP, the building has been designed to meet a 100-year design life, Passivhaus certification and a BREEAM Outstanding rating. Renewables will also be incorporated and include thin film PV and a solar thermal installation for hot water.
Project director John French hopes it can put Norwich on the international map as a ‘green capital,’ creating more than 200 jobs and providing space for innovation to flourish, while supporting traditional Norfolk industries.
The layout of the building, he added, would place academic and business users side by side.
“This is part of the concept,” he said. “The UEA has never had an enterprise centre. We want students to interact with businesses and to start their own businesses as part of the hatchery. They might be developing an energy-monitoring device or a new natural construction material. It doesn’t have to be high-tech to be low carbon.”
The building is being designed by Architype from London. Ben Humphries, a director at the practice, said that while the established best-practice benchmark for embodied energy in university buildings is 845 kilograms of CO2 per square metre (kgCO2e/m2), the goal for the NRP Enterprise Centre is just 168.
“When you consider it is 4,000 sqm, it is a huge saving of CO2 over the 100-year lifetime of the building,” he said.
The UEA secured £6.2m from the European Regional Development Fund on top of £7.2m of its own funding and £2.5m of government funds to take the project forward.
A planning application is expected to be made following the public consultation. If approved, the project is due to begin in May next year and be completed by September, 2014.