The Student Centre, UCL, London

Providing outstanding flexible, adaptable and sustainable space needed for our evolving style of education

Project Details

  • Scheme & Version: BREEAM New Construction 2011
  • Certification Stage: Final Certification
  • Rating: Outstanding
  • Overall Score:  87.2%

Project Team

  • Developer / Client: University College London
  • Architect: Nicholas Hare Architects
  • Building Services: BDP
  • Constructor: Mace
  • Assessor Company: Southfacing
  • Project Manager: Arcadis
  • Sustainability Consultant: Expedition
  • BREEAM AP: Ben Cartmell

About the Building

The new UCL Student Centre exemplifies the flexible, adaptable and sustainable space needed for our evolving style of education. Located at the heart of the Bloomsbury campus, it was designed from the ground up with the needs of students at its heart – providing multiple spaces for personal and group study as well as numerous services which support students through their time at UCL. Open 24/7 and 365 days a year, it is a place to learn in as well as a place to learn from.

The £67 million/ 5,764m2 building demonstrates sector-leading sustainability performance, with a confirmed BREEAM Outstanding award. The high level of ambition was driven from senior management levels and also reflects rapidly increasing student expectations.

Key achievements include excellent building fabric performance with natural ventilation; zero carbon technologies such as ground source cooling and UCL’s largest solar array; and adoption of circular economy principles through the use of low impact, highly durable materials.

Student wellbeing was a constant focus for the project team. Centred around a spectacular atrium, the building creates numerous opportunities for students to meet, to talk, to work alone or together and to socialise. It is grand in scale but offers an intimate and sociable place for students with a range of rooms and study spaces; a landscaped courtyard; a café offering healthy food options; a rooftop terrace with views across London; and thought-provoking new artwork by Turner Prize-winning artist Rachel Whiteread.

The Student Centre also clearly demonstrates that excellent sustainable design is central to the delivery of a high-quality building and, as such, does not have to involve prohibitive cost increases – particularly when viewed in terms of life cycle value. As UCL launches an ambitious new Sustainability Strategy, including a route to net zero carbon, this building provides an essential anchor for all future capital development projects across the estate



Why did the building undergo BREEAM assessment?

UCL continues to mandate a minimum of BREEAM Excellent on all new build and major refurbishment projects, and our dedicated sustainability team constantly promotes value-driven solutions which go well beyond standard practice. This building will not be our last Outstanding!

Stand-out areas where the BREEAM process had a strong influence are as follows:


• A ‘passive first’ approach to design is based on highly efficient building fabric which helps to regulate temperature and minimize energy use.
• Projected 35% reduction in building carbon emissions compared to Building Regulations requirements (Part L 2013)
• ‘A’ rated Energy Performance Certificate
• Approximately 250m2 of PV panels on the roof provide clean, renewable energy – UCL’s largest solar array so far which has already generated
• A ground source heat pump system linked to deep boreholes provides ‘free’ summer cooling and also supports heating during the winter.
• Windows automatically open to naturally ventilate the building in the spring and autumn.
• The building is destined to be a rich resource for Living Lab opportunities based on the extensive energy and environmental data available.

Health and Wellbeing 

• The design of study spaces focusses on optimising daylight, indoor air quality and providing a comfortable internal climate. The glazing design is responsive to orientation, minimising unwanted solar gains, creating comfortable spaces to study.
• The early provision of an indoor air quality plan helped to steer design decisions in an area of sensitivity given the proximity of particularly congested roads. This resulted in the selection of self-finished natural materials.
• 54 new cycle parking spaces have been provided as part of the project, with additional facilities due to be provided close by on the campus. The building also has a number of new (water efficient) shower facilities


• Extensive use of exposed concrete helps to provide excellent levels of thermal mass whilst the use of cement replacement has dramatically reduced embodied carbon – the carbon footprint of the concrete in the frame and slabs was halved from 913kgCO2e/tonne to 457kgCO2e/tonne
• 100% of timber is FSC certified and 100% of concrete, steel and plasterboard is certified to BES6001, a leading framework standard for responsible sourcing.
• Construction waste management figures confirm 100% diversion from landfill – a first for UCL.


• Efficient sanitary fittings reduce water consumption by more than 55% compared to equivalent buildings.
• The green roof helps to manage rainwater runoff as part of a sustainable urban drainage strategy.


• Consultation: The building design was developed in close collaboration with key user groups (staff and students) and involved extensive consultation with a broad range of stakeholders across the institution. This process started from the earliest feasibility stages and continued throughout design and construction, ensuring a shared sense of project ownership. This has been further supported by a collaborative project team approach that has served as a catalyst for delivering innovative and forward-thinking solutions – creating a new paradigm for student study spaces within the UK. The full Soft Landings process has been adopted, followed and documented and we are due to embark on a comprehensive post-occupancy evaluation process over a two year period.
• UCL’s high expectations were clearly embedded and communicated in tender documentation, and remained under constant review by the project management team, as well as the principal contractor’s Sustainability Manager.
• The final CCS visit scored 42/50 (9/10 in environment). Site team was praised by the CCS visitor saying: “community investment is exceptional with great work already commissioned” particular recognition was given to the incorporation of a sculpture, made by a UCL student of clay excavated during construction in the final design, which ensures the construction legacy will live on in the final building.


  • Ecological enhancements include planting in the Japanese Garden and a green roof which will also have a positive influence on the microclimate and contribute to UCL’s ‘Wild Bloomsbury’ initiative. This has a positive influence on the microclimate and provides additional ecological value within the Bloomsbury Conservation Area.

Green Strategy

The Student Centre is UCL’s first BREEAM Outstanding building, and targeting this rating did not come without some degree of trepidation and initial resistance – not least due to a perception that it could lead to prohibitive additional costs. This is something that the project managers were pleased to disprove as part of the delivery of a high-quality building.

For this exemplar project, the delivery team carried out exhaustive work to ensure that every feasible credit was targeted in such a way that it would bring clear value. This involved constant support from BREEAM APs, regular review meetings and we also benefitted from a committed senior Project Sponsor who was keen to demonstrate sustainability leadership despite programme and budget pressures. The assessment process clearly supported, and was supported by, the implementation of UCL’s own Sustainable Building Standard.

UCLs high expectations were clearly embedded and communicated in tender documentation, and remained under constant review by the project managers on all sides. This included regular assessment updates using the Tracker Plus system, as well as a series of contractor workshops to refine design and procurement options.

Circular economy considerations are particularly high on UCL’s agenda – both from academic and estates management perspectives. In support of this, a number of ‘design out waste workshops’ were held. One of the notable achievements was the decision to change to a reusable shuttering and formwork system; this saved over 2 tonnes of waste. The total quantity of secondary aggregate used in the frame was 1370m3 (53% the total volume of aggregate) and a total of 2465m3 of waste products were included in the final building.

Given the very constrained urban site, opportunities to enhance biodiversity were limited. However, again a commitment from senior management to improve green spaces on the campus led to the incorporation of the adjacent Japanese Garden into the project with improvements to the area of planting and further introduction of native species. Areas of green roof were also included on the building.

Finally, the site also had a number of limitations in relation to the introduction of on-site low zero carbon technologies. However, to meet our carbon reduction targets, solar PV panels were introduced on the roof of the building, and the adjacent Bloomsbury Theatre. The ground source borehole system also provides important cooling capacity which ensured excellent comfort levels even during the hottest summer days in 2019.

Benefits of assessing to BREEAM

Sustainability is a key part of UCL’s 20-year development strategy, which complements the university’s Sustainability Strategy, as well as our ambitious Carbon Management Plan and Sustainable Building Standard. We are extremely pleased to achieve the highest BREEAM rating.
The UCL Student Centre demonstrates environmental excellence for all future UCL development projects – and, it is hoped, for other higher education buildings around the UK and beyond. -Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)