The third floor of the Queens Building was originally designed as an open-plan drawing studio, with copious amounts of daylight from glazed ventilators in the roof gables, and large, triangular windows on the east-facing elevation.
Drawing boards went out of fashion very early on, and the space was subsequently used by other departments. Today, it is home to banks of computers for student use. As in the machine shop, the motors serving the ridge ventilators soon burned out. Previous occupants of the space found ways to wedge open the ventilators, but at the time of writing the vents were found to be closed and the power turned off.
There seems little effective ventilation in the space. With a lack of thermal mass in the roof, heat from the computers and hot air rising up from low levels, the former drawing studio is a hot space in summer.
The hemispherical auditoriums sit side-by-side along the north-west elevation, with the second auditorium rotated through 180°, ostensibly as a space-saving manoeuvre. Both rely on buoyancy-driven ventilation, with incoming air tempered by traversing a concrete plenum beneath the seating and extracted through tall, insulated chimneys. The strategy has worked well for the auditorium that is orientated with its raked seating backing onto the road, but has arguably failed for the other auditorium.
Some incoming air for auditorium 1.12 traverses a convoluted route to reach the seating plenum, but the greater proportion takes the line of least resistance, entering the space directly past heating coils set into the perimeter wall. The incoming air is simply not in contact with the heating coils long enough to raise its temperature, and a lack of turbulent flow creates serious stratification problems. The result can lead to an 8°C difference between the upper and lower seating areas. Malcolm Cook thinks that blanking off a section of the supply grille may encourage better mixing.
Heavy engineering wing
The former heavy engineering hall has undergone a significant change of use, a reflection of the University's shift away from engineering to maths, chemistry and media studies.
The installation of a mezzanine, internal solid walls and partitions on the first floor to create laboratories required a complete rethink of the ventilation strategy.
Originally, fresh air entered the ground floor machine hall via ventilated buttresses.
Today, this air now crosses the machine hall and enters a central corridor via a series of transfer grilles. Extract is then out through the original ridge ventilators.
The only way the first floor laboratories could be ventilated was by knocking vents at first floor level into the ventilated buttresses, and relying on enough natural buoyancy to drive the ventilation through the ridge ventilators.
In practice, the laboratories do not seem to get enough air, and conditions are noticeably uncomfortable. The wing has also undergone further changes of use since the ventilation system was reconfigured, and in places it seems unable to cope.
Occupants of the labs also suffer glare from the apex windows, way beyond their reach, and currently they have no blinds or other mechanism by which to control it.
In 1996, gas and electricity consumption was 143 kWh/m2/y and 52 kWh/m2/y respectively. In 2004, the energy figures were 176 kWh/m2/y for gas and 87 kWh/m2/y for electricity - close to the original EEO benchmark but still heading the wrong way.
While the increase in electrical use may be a combination of more computers and a change of use of the engineering wing, the relatively inefficient electric feature lighting in the main concourse has also defaulted to on, despite very good daylighting. Lighting control in many open plan areas and laboratories also seems non-existent or nonsensical in operation. (In one lab, the fluorescent lights were on in the daylit perimeter, but off in the central area.) A notable exception is the offices for the IESD where a daylight-linked dimming system has been installed.
The increase in gas consumption is largely attributable to problems with the heating system. Three major problems were resolved in 2005: re-zoning of the heating system so that demand for heat in one area of the building doesn't bring on the heating in others, extra pipework to create new heating zones, and the replacement of seized two and three-port valves. Energy figures for 2005 may show an improvement.
Occupant satisfaction survey
The BSRIA revisit to the Queens Building was conducted in early August 2006. Ostensibly the holiday season, over 50 permanent members of staff were working in the building. An occupant survey was carried out by Building Use Studies. Forty five BUS questionnaires were completed (compared to 75 in 1996).
In general terms, satisfaction with temperature in both summer and winter is the same, although occupants perceive the air in winter to be better. Productivity has improved by around four percent, but the building still suffers a minus score as it did in 1996. Lighting and noise scores are better.
Levels of occupant satisfaction are very dependent on location. For example, the relatively high occupant satisfaction in the refurbished IESD offices is not matched by those occupying the new laboratories.
Does the building deserve its iconic status?
History records that the architecture of the Queens Building has ploughed a lonely design furrow. Given that so much of the building's ventilation and daylighting is determined by its bricks and mortar, the Queens Building is rather stuck in a time warp. It's difficult to improve or alter it, apart from changes to heating circuits and replacements of valves and motors. Elements such as these are not fit-and-forget - they are critical to the building's operation, energy efficiency and occupant comfort.
The saving grace of the Queens Building is that its occupants seem willing to forgive the building's transgressions on comfort and lack of user control in the belief that they are working in a building worthy of being loved for its very idiosyncrasies.
BSRIA acknowledges the help of the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development, and Adrian Leaman of Building Use Studies for use of the BUS occupant satisfaction survey.
For more information contact Roderic Bunn at BSRIA:
T: 01344 465516