BIM workflow helps deliver student residences at University of St Andrews

BIM workflow helps to deliver award-winning purpose-built student accommodation at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Student residences designed using Archicad at St Andrews University. Image credit Peter Barbour Photography - HLM Architects | PBSA News
Student residences at St Andrews University. Image credit Peter Barbour Photography.

By HLM Architects

HLM Architects were tasked with creating new purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) for 400 students at the University of St Andrews. Located on Scotland’s east coast, St Andrews is a historic university town boasting a 12th century cathedral and a 13th century castle. The university itself dates back to the 15th century.

With a growing student population, the university wanted to relieve pressure on housing within the centre of St Andrews, in particular shared student houses, to help free up properties for local people.

With this in mind, the university formed a joint venture with Campus Living Villages and asked HLM Architects to design two new buildings providing additional on-campus accommodation for 400 students.

Both Whitehorn Hall and Powell Hall were designed and constructed within a very challenging timescale of under two years to get them ready for the new academic year.

Whitehorn Hall PBSA. Image credit Peter Barbour Photography - HLM Architects | PBSA News
Whitehorn Hall PBSA. Image credit Peter Barbour Photography.

Creating a place to live, learn and grow

The brief from the university was to create high-quality student accommodation and build communities where students could meet, learn and socialise, while also supporting academic and personal growth.

As well as the bedrooms, each residence offers communal and social spaces designed to encourage students to gather together. Double height spaces create a sense of arrival and contrast with smaller study areas.

Both the buildings were designed using architectural design software, Archicad.

“Achieving planning permission for Whitehorn Hall was tricky as the building is next door to a category B listed hall. However, having the Archicad model to show the planners really helped; we were able to show them our designs and allow them to interrogate the model during the planning process.”

Adam McAvoy, Architect, HLM

Whitehorn Hall was designed to reflect and reinforce the character and feel of the adjacent B listed university hall. Located in a constrained site within the Hepburn Gardens Conservation Area, HLM set the new building back from the road so that it wouldn’t dominate the vista. The architects chose contemporary zinc for the roof together with grey brickwork and polished concrete to complement the nearby buildings.

Meanwhile, Powell Hall is built in a U-shape around a courtyard, with light buff solid masonry and polished concrete cladding panels. The effect is a contemporary building echoing the traditional university quads that does not detract from the surrounding architecture.

Repeated elements speed design

The designs for the student residences included many repetitive elements. Across the two buildings, there are three types of bedrooms and six different types of communal spaces – such as shared kitchens and living areas.

Powell Hall has 205 bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms. Meanwhile, Whitehorn Hall was designed with 184 bedrooms, a combination of en-suite and standard rooms which have shared bathroom facilities.

The time-savings achieved by using Archicad to design such a scheme were significant.

“Using Archicad, we were able to create a fully detailed design for each type of room just once. We then hot-linked it into the model. If anything was then updated in one of the rooms, it would automatically update across all the others, saving us a huge amount of time.”

Adam McAvoy, Architect, HLM

Prefabrication and coordination

Archicad was particularly useful for ensuring that the prefabricated elements of the buildings were a perfect fit. For Whitehorn Hall, space was very tight, so the architects had to optimise every inch to fit as many bedrooms in as possible.

Models from the roof truss designer, the steel subcontractor and the concrete cladding subcontractor were all coordinated into the Archicad model with information shared via the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) format.

“Coordination of the steel work and roof structure were particularly important. The roof dimensions were critical due to the gutter detailing to avoid clashes with opening the dormer windows. Once IFC from the roof truss manufacturer had been imported, we were able to adjust the roof geometry to suit our design.

“Being able to bring the subcontractor models directly into Archicad in this way not only ensured accuracy but also sped up the process significantly.”

Adam McAvoy, Architect, HLM

In Powell Hall, 205 bedrooms each had a vent, all of which needed to be coordinated in the facades and in the steelwork. The envelope was manufactured off site and every opening had to line up perfectly. Similarly, for Whitehorn Hall, concrete cladding panels were pre-cast off site before being brought to site and installed.

St Andrews University's new student residences. Image credit Peter Barbour Photography - HLM Architects | PBSA News
St Andrews University’s new student residences. Image credit Peter Barbour Photography.

Fast-track construction with architect on site

Due to the exceedingly tight timescales, Adam was based on site for three months during construction, working alongside main contractor Sir Robert McAlpine.

“Initially, the contractor had asked for an architect to come to site for two weeks to work through a particular stage of construction. However, having found the process so valuable, this was eventually extended to three months.”

Adam McAvoy, Architect, HLM

Using Archicad, HLM prepared a combined architectural and subcontractor model for the contractor to use.

“I took a laptop to site and ran the live model in situ. Any issues with coordination could be fixed straight away. It was hugely beneficial to work in this way and was absolutely key in helping to meet our tight deadlines.”

“We were all there for the same goal: to complete the project on time and within budget. I was able to remote desktop directly into the studio, chat to the team there, and update the model live on site.”

Adam McAvoy, Architect, HLM

Whilst on site, HLM regularly used the 3D sectional cutaway tool within Archicad. This enabled the architect to easily show the contractor how all the different subcontractor elements came together in the model.

“These things would have been almost impossible to explain without Archicad. We would have had to have three sets of drawings on screen at the same time. But the cut-through meant the contractor could immediately see what we were referring to.”

Adam McAvoy, Architect, HLM

Following a fast-track 12-month build both residences were ready for students to move in, in less than two years after HLM had drawn up the initial concept designs.