Manchester Metropolitan University – Student’s Union

Published 22nd August 2022

Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) Student Union is a £9m, 23,000 sqm, four-storey scheme accommodating 5,000 students and staff. Designed to be tough, flexible and fun, the facility comprises an entertainment hall, fully fitted night club and bar areas along with retail space, café bar, meeting rooms, offices and fitness studio.

Our team were appointed to provide building services, structural engineering and acoustics for this new build multi-use Student Union located within the city centre MMU campus area. The building design needed to offer flexibility to meet the wide range of potential uses and requirements, with the main hall needing to offer the ability to transform from nightclub venue to sports hall, dining area, exam hall and conference space, all with different operational parameters and requirements.

The four-storey building has glazed brick elevations interspersed with curtain walling and a green roof above the 18m clear span events hall. The exterior design utilises materials which reflect its cultural importance, whilst complementing the neighbouring Victorian pubs and playhouses. Internal spaces have been kept open and flexible, punctuated by exposed structures, services and pre-cast concrete walls. During preconstruction, archaeological investigations of the site revealed a number of intact 19th century basements. It was decided to preserve one of these beneath the café’ bar by constructing a concrete box around the basement and illuminating to allow viewing through the floor via an unusual glass floor.

A stacked system was used for the precast glazed brick cladding panels to avoid excessive loads onto the frame, and a precast design was also adopted for some of the foundation elements. Elsewhere, our acoustics specialists determined that the events hall roof needed to be of concrete construction, therefore, for lightness, 18m clear span steel beams were used to support the concrete roof.

The MEP strategy delivered heating, cooling and ventilation systems with energy efficient control to adjust to the differing hours of use and occupancies across the varied spaces in the building. We used high efficiency air source heat pump technologies to lower the carbon emissions of the building and to meet the Manchester City Council’s carbon emission targets, coupled with heat recovery on all ventilation systems, LED lighting, lighting controls and high thermal efficiency fabrics. The scheme has met and surpassed these targets. The building controls and metering systems have been interfaced back to the central MMU energy monitoring systems to allow zone by zone and floor by floor energy monitoring in line with the MMU’s approach to department energy assessments and initiatives. The fully mechanically vented building was designed to suit the city centre location and noise control requirements.

For consistency of detailing and speed of construction, a precast solution was adopted for both the structural frame and external cladding, the thermal mass of which was incorporated as part of the MEP strategy, acting as a key driver in the structural design selection. The building was developed from the outset to make full use of the exposed concrete frame, which harnesses thermal mass for the benefit of the internal environment. The offset of peak heating and cooling loads has created an energy efficient system to deal with the short-term increases in occupancy and space usage associated with the main hall and student areas.

This development achieved a BREEM ‘Excellent’ rating and has won RIBA North-West Regional and RIBA National Awards.