Stanton Williams designs textured concrete forms for UCL’s Marshgate building

College of Concrete

Stanton Williams designs textured concrete forms for UCL’s Marshgate building

University College London’s (UCL) new Marshgate building inaugurates the completion of phase one of the UCL East satellite campus. (Hufton + Crow Photography)
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Architect: Stanton Williams
Completion Date: September 2023
Location: London

Located in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on the East side of London, the Marshgate building is a brand new facility for the University College London (UCL) designed by the Stirling Prize–winning architectural firm Stanton Williams. The imposing concrete building found precedent in East London’s industrial vernacular and nods to the Brutalist buildings elsewhere in the city. It is one part of the larger UCL East satellite campus in the park, which officially opened its doors to students last month.

Built to house eight floors of research, study, and collaboration spaces, the Marshgate building is the largest structure owned by UCL. (Hufton + Crow Photography)

This massive building, the largest owned by the university, rises 8 stories and features nearly 400,000 square feet of space. Each floor’s program is designed to be amenable to interdisciplinary learning, with research, study, and classroom space for a variety of disciplines including engineering, robotics, global health, and green technology. The facility features fabrication workshops, media studios, exhibition areas, design studios, lecture theaters, and a library. According to a project description, the architects conceive of each floor as “a series of neighborhoods” organized around a large group-meeting space.

Within the building, a large centrally-located atrium provides for circulation via stairwells and escalators, lit from above by massive skylights. (Hufton + Crow Photography)

The building’s bottom floors feature a cafe, art exhibitions, and activities designed to engage the public. Above this, the floors which sit within the middle of the structure house facilities for students, while the top levels are reserved for laboratory and research space. This layout was organized with the input of the building’s future occupants during end-user briefs conducted by Stanton Williams in collaboration with the interior architect, Sheppard Robson. Each floor of the building circles a large, generously daylit atrium connected by centrally-located escalators and stairwells.

The design of the Marshgate building nods to East London’s industrial vernacular, the monumental architecture of UCL’s Bloomsbury campus, as well as the UK’s brutalist architecture. (Hufton + Crow Photography)

Eschewing the transparency of the glass curtain wall, designers at Stanton William instead looked to the historic structures of UCL’s Bloomsbury campus for inspiration as well as the industrial vernacular of East London. This resulted in the use of concrete and weathered steel for the construction of the Marshgate building. Echoing the Brutalism of London’s Barbican and Wolfson College in Cambridge, these materials were organized into large, imposing forms.

Gavin Henderson, principal director at Stanton Williams, told AN, “the use of concrete allowed us to deliver enhanced lifespans required for the facade and lower embodied carbon relative to typical highly glazed aluminum systems, or systems requiring significant secondary steelwork.”

A wood grain texture was applied to the walls of the lower level, while a pebbled surface was implemented on the concrete wrapping higher floors. (Hufton + Crow Photography)

To heighten the facade’s sculptural character, several textures were applied to the concrete, referencing the board-marked and bush-hammered concrete infrastructure of East London. The bottom floors of the structure were marked with timber boards while higher levels transition to a pebbled texture. On the interior, concrete walls on the lower floors were treated with an abraded finish to reveal the aggregate and its detail.

Stanton Williams worked with Techrete on the precast concrete panels, building mock-ups and testing finishes at their factory in Dublin. Different concrete mixes and aggregates were tested for texture and color before full-panel modules were constructed and tested for quality.

Concrete was selected for its durability, which was important to the client not only in terms of the university’s longevity but also in regard to environmental concerns and sustainability.

Laboratory space is provided to the universitys researchers on the top floors of the building. (Hufton + Crow Photography)

The Marshgate facility also boasts a number of high-performance energy achievements. A 40 percent glazing ratio was implemented according to the U.K.’s best practice guidelines for energy performance. The building was also figured according to environmental models which took into account solar heat gain. Concrete fins were implemented to shade glazing in smaller areas such as classrooms and workspaces. Glazing in larger spaces, such as collaboration spaces and the atrium, remain more open to daylight.

Inside the structure, the designers took full advantage of the building’s thermal mass to retain temperature. In addition, the structure is equipped to naturally ventilate. A smart building system allows the university to monitor energy consumption and implement necessary adjustments. The building also features more than 10,000 square feet of photovoltaic cells, which produce 190 megawatt hours of energy annually.

The Marshgate building is located in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home to the 2012 Olympic games, and one part of a larger redevelopment of the area. (Hufton + Crow Photography)

The UCL East satellite campus is the largest expansion undertaken by the university in its 200 year history. Phase one of the campus master plan also included the construction of One Pool Street, designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands. The university’s new campus sits within the larger East Bank cultural quarter, a development championed by the Mayor of London which will also house UAL’s London College of Fashion, a new location for Sadler’s Wells East Theater, a BBC Music outpost, as well as V&A East, a brand new museum project from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

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