Richmond Building
In Brief

University of Bristol


Construction value:

April 2016

The Richmond Building has been transformed from a tired 1960s steel and concrete structure into a multi-use University building, still home to the Student Union, but also to cultural, performance, teaching, study and social functions.

Over the past 50 years, a series of ad-hoc changes to the interior has made the spaces cluttered and inflexible. Asbestos was present throughout the building, the fabric leaked energy resulting in extremely high running costs and neighbours found the building ugly, noisy and incongruous in the Clifton Conservation Area. Our task was to make the Richmond Building welcoming, accessible, environmentally efficient and spatially hard-working.

During a four-phased construction programme, throughout which the building remained open, an ‘excavation’ of the interior took place. The concrete soffit was exposed, redundant services were stripped out and renewed and the layout reconfigured to create flexible spaces that could be used throughout the day and into the evening. A foyer extension added much-needed clarity to the entrance, both inside and out, and provided space for new changing facilities for the swimming pool. 

The combination of re-using the existing building and radically improving how it operates has resulted in a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating and, importantly, helped to meet the University’s exacting sustainability targets.

The Richmond Building was built in 1965 for the Student Union, to meet the pastoral, recreational and social needs of an expanding student population living away from home.

Since then, a long period of ad-hoc change has been to the general detriment of the building interior and organisation. As well as looking tired, the interior was cluttered and spatially inefficient.

Our brief was to improve the building’s efficiency, sustainability, accessibility, identity and inclusivity – all of which were lacking in the existing building. The building's transformation needed to be approached with a care for not only its architectural significance as a Modernist building, but also for the Georgian setting of the Clifton Conservation Area. 

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"At the beginning of the project I thought a student union was its people not its building, but now I see that it is both entwined. The staff and students love the building."
Samantha Budd, CEO Bristol SU
"For my own part, it has been a great joy to prove that iconic 60's buildings can be transformed into handsome new spaces, while achieving genuinely stretching sustainability targets."
Patrick Finch, Bursar and Director of Estates, University of Bristol
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The new front extension, though a small part of the overall floor area, was fundamental to unlocking the original building's potential, providing a welcoming, dramatic and accessible entrance hall.

The existing 12,000m2  building has been fully refurbished over four phases, including extensive asbestos removal works, during which time the building remained open.

The University has gained an additional 2,500m2 of accommodation, and reduced its running costs and environmental impact. The students have a focal point for their social and learning requirements in an attractive, flexible series of spaces, which can grow with them. 

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Sustainable Refurbishment

Why invest in an underappreciated 1960s building? and why not demolish and build something new? The principal reason was sustainability.

The building’s concrete and steel frame was in good health. To demolish and re-build would have been a far less sustainable option as the embodied energy associated with a building's construction accounts for a major part of its lifetime CO2 emissions. 

A new glazing design, combined with new layouts, allowed a shift to natural ventilation for many of the spaces. The existing concrete soffits have been left exposed throughout, providing thermal mass to help regulate internal temperatures. Our sustainable design principles have resulted in a BREEAM 'Excellent' rating and an EPC certification that has moved from E to B.

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University of Bristol
Structural Engineer:
Capita Symonds
M & E Engineer:
Quantity Surveyor:
Faithful and Gould
Acoustic Engineer:
Project Management:
Provelio Ltd
Landscape Consultant:
Nicholas Pearson Associates
Cowlin Construction/Galliford Try/John Perkins
Hufton and Crow

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