UTC Global Academy, London

The UK’s first University Technical College to use offsite construction methods

Completed in 2016, the Global Academy in Hayes, West London, is a state-of-the-art school for 14-19-year-olds, aimed at students pursuing careers in the media and broadcast industries. It is one of the UK’s most efficient modular buildings, and the first education establishment of its kind to use offsite construction. Mixing traditional construction methods with a state-of-the-art modular approach enabled the entire 8,700m² , £16m project to be completed within a year. A JCT Design and Build Contract provided the contract solution.

The Global Academy is a result of a collaboration between offsite specialist, Portakabin, and Surface to Air Architects. The project is developed for client, Global, the media and entertainment group and supported by the Department for Education. Built on the site of the Old Vinyl Factory, formerly the location of EMI Records, the project combined 50% traditional and 50% offsite construction to create a uniquely stylish and functional building. The school is equipped with professional recording studios, radio and TV studios, a lecture theatre and sports hall. The contemporary design and use of colour and graphic elements are a hint to the site’s history of music and sound production. The combination of modern and traditional approaches enabled the project to run as smoothly as possible, as well as being a necessary working methodology to help overcome two of the project’s main challenges: space and time.

The constrained amount of space on site – there was only four metres between the site boundary and the building – meant that offsite production was a major factor in being able to keep the construction works in progress. The challenging brownfield site also required extensive excavation and complex groundworks, including excavations for district heating and the construction of a new electricity sub-station. Whilst this foundation work was underway on site, Portakabin were able to build the modular elements of the project at its manufacturing site in York, and work on the interior fit-out. Developing both the offsite and traditional works simultaneously also helped in space-saving further down the line when it came time to crane in the modular elements.

Global Academy’s other main challenge was timescale. With just one year to complete the project, the combination of using offsite construction with traditional techniques allowed the two elements of the works to be completed simultaneously. Being able to carry out different aspects of the works in a non-linear fashion also helped to save time. Alongside the foundation work, a significant amount for the project was completed on-site, including the sports hall, lecture theatre and TV studios. Once the modular elements were completed at the Portakabin manufacturing site, the construction team were able to crane each module in at a rate of approximately one unit per hour when actually on site.

The completed building has a roof-lit central atrium as its focal point, with a sculptured feature staircase. The north and south elevations are completely enclosed with anodised aluminium mesh cladding from first floor to roof level, whilst below, the ground floor features full-height, ground-to-ceiling glazing. The two wings form the buildings major offsite constructed modular elements. The wings are four storeys high and total 112 modules, which range in size from lengths of 6m to 18.75m and widths of 3m to 3.75m.

From the two four-storey modular sections, the curtain wall is erected on the open side of the atrium. A circulation space is created with the roof that crosses between the two wings. Another of the significant areas of offsite construction were the recording studios. These were designed to very specific requirements and acousticians were employed to make sure the exact specifications and requirements were met.

The popularity of offsite construction is on the rise with government backing and a number of emerging players in the sector. Innovators such as Portakabin, alongside Surface to Air Architects, exemplify the efficiency and flexibility that can be achieved with the Global Academy. What makes this project unique is the way in which the strengths of both traditional and offsite construction are played to in order to maximise efficiency and mitigate against the projects challenges – in this case building on a constrained site with a very tight timescale.

The JCT Design and Build Contract is well suited to projects involving the type of complexity featured on the Global Academy. As a reflection of the project itself, it is a contract able to combine modern and traditional ways of working where the design and construction is part of a collaborative process. It is perhaps appropriate that the UK’s first University Technical College to use offsite construction is dedicated to the broadcast and media industries, as its students truly have a building that’s the star of the show.

Project summary:
Client: Global
Architect: Surface to Air Architects
Contractor: Portakabin
Cost: £16m
Size: 8,700m²
Contract: JCT Design and Build Contract

Awards and nominations:
Education Project of the Year, Annual Offsite Construction Awards 2018 – winner
Hybrid Project of the Year, Annual Offsite Construction Awards 2018 – shortlisted
Public Sector, FX Awards 2017 – shortlisted
Offsite Project of the Year, Building Awards 2017 – shortlisted


Images: Jim Stephenson