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Planning application submitted for the UK's most sustainable commercial building

Wed, 05 Dec 2012

A planning application has been submitted for a building that is set to become the most environmentally friendly commercial building ever created in the UK.

The proposed building, which will form an important gateway into the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, will showcase innovative use of locally sourced materials such as contemporary thatch panelling and Norfolk straw and heather.

The Exemplar Low Carbon Building will be known as the Norwich Research Park (NRP) Enterprise Centre, and is targeting BREEAM Outstanding and Passivhaus Certification, meaning it will be incredibly environmentally friendly, need very little energy to heat and cool and act as a carbon sink.

It is anticipated that building materials including Thetford timber, lime, hemp and flint, will be sourced locally and nearby businesses and craftsmen will be employed to create the building. It is also hoped the creation of the building will reignite activity in the regional forestry industry. The majority of the materials will have a low environmental impact and include renewable alternatives to traditional high-carbon options.

The project, which is being delivered by UEA's Adapt Low Carbon Group, will be built by construction company Morgan Sindall, designed by architects Architype and civil, structural and environmental engineers BDP and is bringing together a number of partners who are inputting their expertise to ensure the centre meets its low-carbon related aims. The planning application has been submitted by Bidwells jointly on behalf of UEA and Morgan Sindall.

The two-storey building will be a hub for joined-up low carbon thinking, enhancing UEA's reputation for pioneering research into the environment and responses to climate change. It will also act as a stimulus for the regional economy through its contemporary use of local natural materials and products.

The building will be constructed around a courtyard, with two main accommodation wings. These will house work areas, offices, academic classrooms, communal meeting areas and a range of other spaces. The building will also house a 300 seat lecture theatre and a testing pavilion for trialing new construction innovations. The bold scheme will provide a link through to Earlham Hall and the surrounding landscape from University Drive and will create a dynamic visual gateway to the university.

Project Director John French hopes the building will be a beacon to inspire similar developments locally, nationally and potentially around the world. He said: "It will be a huge benefit to the local economy and to our reputation as a green capital.

"We want to demonstrate that this is possible to do, so that people will copy it. People never change in society unless someone comes along and does something differently. The layout of the building will place academic and commercial users side by side. We want students to interact with businesses and to start their own businesses."

Glyn Davies, a planning partner at Bidwells, sees the development as yet a further example of innovative leading edge architecture, which has characterised development at UEA since its foundation. He considers it to be "a very appropriate development, not only because it reflects the exciting research into sustainable building materials and their uses, currently being undertaken at UEA, but also because it is located close to Earlham Hall, which has formed an important part of the university since its establishment 50 years ago."

The project is being part-funded by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), in addition to funding from UEA, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBRSC), Norwich Research Park (NRP) and BRE (Building Research Establishment).

During the creation of the building, 540 SMEs from across the region will have access to a series of educational events including CPD (continual professional development) accredited seminars, webinars and workshops showcasing the design, build and post-occupancy of the project. The aims of this is to ensure that not only will the area benefit from having an innovative building on its doorstep, local businesses working within the built environment will also be able to learn new skills and meet with experts in the creation of 'green' buildings. This support will be delivered by the newly launched Centre for the Built Environment.