Modelling sustainability through intelligent design at UEA (2015) Modelling sustainability through intelligent design at UEA (2015)

Winner of 2015 RICS Grand Final ‘Design through Innovation’ award / Winner, 2015 Green Gown Awards in ‘Built Environment’ category / Winner 2014 Construction Computing Awards ‘Collaboration Project of the Year’

Crome Court: Winner, Built Environment category in the 2015 Green Gown Awards


Crome Court is UEA’s newest and most energy efficient accommodation block, and the one with the strongest environmental credentials. The award-winning and BREEAM Excellent project, delivered to the University in August 2014, came in £800,000 under budget, in a record-breaking timescale and as one of the first projects in the UK to have achieved a fully-integrated BIM Level 2. Building on previous lessons from other elements of UEA’s low carbon campus, it pioneered new techniques and intelligent modelling concepts. The building saves over 74 tonnes of carbon (74tCO2e) per year.

The building includes 232 en-suite student residential rooms, with kitchen and dining rooms per flat, and a communal facility on the ground floor. It is arranged in 5 to 7 storeys in a south-facing U-shaped configuration. Its high-quality spec and finish has ensured very positive response from residents and a new level of environmental data to help shape future accommodation design at UEA.

Project innovation

Crome Court, UEA's greenest accommodation block

Crome Court was the first building on campus to fully embrace Building Information Modelling, or BIM. It is one of the first projects in the UK to have achieved a fully-integrated, ‘6D’, BIM Level 2. As a result, the project won the 2015 RICS Grand Final for ‘Design through Innovation’ in addition to an award for computing excellence and collaboration within the built environment: the 2014 Construction Computing Awards’ ‘Collaboration Project of the Year’. With only 98 weeks between starting design and completing the project, the BIM process enabled both speedy delivery and the integration of sustainable principles from the very earliest stages.

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Through BIM, building projects can model scenarios that take account for a multitude of options very quickly. Data from across various disciplines could be input into the tool to maximise chosen elements, such as fenestration, energy or cost.

While this work is a standard feature of planning projects, in the past it has been a very time-intensive way to manipulate options. The Crome Court Project Manager, Martin Lovatt, was able to balance different ideas against each other to come up with the most cost-effective way to deliver a sustainable project – and to take ongoing costs, from facilities management and maintenance, into account in a new way.

“We achieved a fully-integrated BIM Level 2, one of the few projects in the UK to have done that. It put us on the national stage and we won an award – several awards, but this award was for computing excellence and collaboration within the built environment: the ‘Collaboration Project of the Year’ for 2014, through the Construction Computing Awards.

In its core, this is technology that enables people to come together. When people come together in a certain way, then there’s magic that happens by collaborating properly. Designers no longer work in their own silos, we bring all that information together and see how that interacts properly in a virtual way. As clients, we can see that and understand it; with more certainty in what you will get when you build your building, you can identify clashes ahead of the build. You know what you’ve designed, you can build. As an intelligent system, it helps to get all of the internal stakeholders on board. It gives certainty. You have certainty on the programme; you know that you can build it as designed.”

BIM considered the whole life cost of various elements of the building, and how they interrelate with each other. A focus shift from capital expenditure costs to operational costs meant that significant amounts of money were saved against the whole lifecycle of the project.

One example is how the level of insulation was balanced against other cost factors. If a maximum thickness of insulation had been used then there would have been additional bracketing required for the rainscreen on the external face of the building. This would have implications for the embedded carbon and cost of the project. By reducing the insulation to the point where it was still efficient but the additional bracketing wasn’t needed, the payback ‘sweet spot’ was reached. Windows also use ‘very good’ double-glazing, as triple-glazing would not deliver additional value for money – and building users have agreed that they are more than warm enough.

BIM helped ensure impressive levels of space efficiency. To identify room efficiency, the Gross Internal Area (including all space within the building, such as lifts, dead space and risers) is divided by the number of lettable bedrooms. The smaller the ratio, the more efficiently space is being utilised (and, by extension, the greater the value to the University and as an example of effective use of resources). The national average is around 30m2 per bedroom; Crome Court delivered around 25m2 per bedroom. The Blackdale Development, currently under construction, used Crome Court as a blueprint and has surpassed these levels of high efficiency with a designed efficiency ratio of 23m2 per bedroom. This includes additional social space per student flat. (For the sake of clarity, the actual rooms are around 12m2 each.)

The results

The problem

The University sought a new, on-campus en-suite accommodation option to support increasing student numbers while continuing to deliver a top-quality level of student experience. The project objectives were to achieve very high standards of sustainability within a challenging £9m construction budget and to a very fast programme of 22 months from concept to completion.

The approach

BIM is a technology-led process that enables people to come together: designers work alongside core team members to see how design elements will interact in a virtual way. As clients, UEA were able to identify clashes ahead of the build and have more confidence that the finished produce would meet objectives. As an intelligent system, it helped to get all internal stakeholders on board and provided certainty in the process.

The project brief was developed in January 2013, with part of the brief that the building must be operational for September 2014. This tight timescale forced us down certain procurement routes. We needed to hit the ground running, and with University sign-off we were able to single source a ‘dream team’. This team saw an opportunity to develop their own BIM capabilities on a live project, and BIM became a crucial part of the procurement and planning process.

Through the use of the BIM model we were able to secure planning consent in under six months. Although the project was only at RIBA stage D, with planning consent under our belt and the design convincing and well thought out, we were able to move away from the anticipated two-stage tender process, with its inherent risks, to a less risky single stage Design & Build tender process.

We were proved right with the BIM model; as part of the tender information the contractors were able to price on reduced risk. Furthermore, by implementing BIM, some of the financial efficiencies we achieved were able to be reinvested into the project. Items such as the grey water recycling and green wall, which are ethically the right solutions but are financially questionable, would have been a “soft” value engineering target had the tenders not been so advantageous. In conclusion we found that through the necessity of the programme constraints we made an opportunity to bring together the right people to use new technology, which helped us procure the building as a turn-key solution under a single stage D&B un-amended JCT contract. This exceeded all expectations in aiding the timely delivery of the project.

Our goals

Initial stakeholder meetings with students identified the importance of ‘green’ issues. As a result, we aimed to deliver a building where students can live comfortably but also know that their building is in harmony with their own environmental aspirations.

Martin Lovatt, Project Manager, commented, “This building is a signpost, a figurehead of what can be achieved, but changing people’s behaviour can have a much bigger impact in the longer term.”

This is exemplified by the touch screen energy monitor in every kitchen, displaying the flat’s energy use plotted as a percentage against the building’s best and worst performing flats. We hope to engender a healthy level of competition that may help raise awareness of energy usage which students will take with them through their lives beyond the University.

Performance and results

The building produces 95% less CO2 emissions than the same building under regulation standards, through high levels of insulation and renewables. Thermal insulation and air tightness are greater than current building regulations, and (against a 10% local planning requirement) 69% of the calculated energy use is provided by renewables (PV panels, biomass and gas CHP).

Environmentally, Crome Court is a low-impact building.

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) was used for the building’s superstructure, involving layers of timber being overlapped and bound for additional strength and stability. The wood, compared to a steel or concrete structure, reduced the embedded carbon of the building as well as acting to sequester carbon within its very structure due to the trees absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during growth. The structure of Crome Court is constructed from approximately 1750m3 of timber, sequestering nearly 1400 tonnes of CO2. It will be approximately 4 years of continued use before the building’s carbon emissions will approach the carbon stored within the structure.

Three-quarters of the showers from the building provide enough ‘grey’ water to flush all toilets in the building. This use of grey water reduces the University’s environmental impact, a particularly important feature as East Anglia is an area with some of the lowest rainfall in the UK. The filtering and ultra-violet cleansing of the waste water to provide the recycled grey water has a much lower energy-intensity than preparing fresh water to drink and using that instead for these needs.

The green wall – a living vertical carpet of plants that cover a large section of one outside wall – is a stunning feature for the building and University, and irrigating it through rainwater recycling reduces the impact of the building while also replacing some biodiversity and rainwater absorption lost from the building’s footprint.

The flooring in the surrounding hard landscaping was created from recycled aggregates, reducing impacts on landfill, while UEA’s planting strategy encourages drought tolerant and native species of plants.

Lessons learned

The Crome Court example produced three key lessons for organisations considering a similar project.

1 – Use BIM as a tool to show value for money. BIM helped ensure impressive levels of space efficiency: while the national Gross Internal Area average is around 30m2 per bedroom, Crome Court delivered around 25m2 per bedroom. The Blackdale Development used Crome Court as a blueprint and through BIM has surpassed these levels of high efficiency with a designed efficiency ratio of 23m2 per bedroom.

2 – Take advantage of BIM as an aide to collaboration. As an intelligent system, BIM helped to get all internal stakeholders on board and provided certainty in the process. As clients, we were able to identify clashes ahead of the build and have more confidence that the finished produce would meet objectives. Crome Court has given the University management confidence in BIM as a cost-effective tool to enable financial efficiency, at the same time as bringing additional environmental improvements and opportunities to challenge preconceptions of standard and innovative building practices.

3 – Promote the wider environmental agenda through case study examples. The use of cross-laminated timber meant a considerably lighter frame, reducing the required size of the foundations and therefore the related impact of concrete and other carbon-intensive materials. We used this to discuss embedded carbon with our project managers. CLT is also more efficient waste-wise than steel or concrete; we found a strong case study in promoting the zero waste produced on site, and how factory offcuts were used to create other products such as biomass pellets. The pre-fabricated walls reduced the noise and disturbance to other campus users; Crome Court was built in the centre of a built-up area while surrounding residences within 10m of the build site were still being inhabited, with only one noise complaint during the whole project!


The project has raised the quality of design for student residences at UEA, demonstrated through feedback from a post-occupational review. Students enjoy the building and its distinctive design, and ease of use has made it popular. Student experience is a key deliverable for UEA so this feedback, alongside financial viability, has shaped future residential build strategy. The kitchen and social spaces have been very popular in feedback, with views out across the UEA Broad and nearby parklands.

The building is setting a standard for sustainability by acting as a blueprint that will be achievable for 'mainstream' developments elsewhere, as these high standards are achieved within a realistic budget and to a very fast programme. It is an example of a high-quality development that has been popular with both users and with the project teams within the University.

Looking forward

The University started to build another large block of residences through BIM in 2015. The Blackdale Development, the ‘big sister’ of Crome Court, will be coming online in 2016 and will also use BIM technology.

Martin Lovatt, who is also the University’s Project Manager for Blackdale, said, “It’s going to be even better. We’re learning all the time – and, actually, a lot of what you learn isn’t so much the processes; you learn to recognise the people who can use those processes, and pull in the right team of people at the right time.”

Modelling sustainability through intelligent design at UEA

Crome Court, Finalist in the 2015 Green Gown Awards: watch our video

Learn more about our low carbon campus