The Enterprise Centre, Norwich, East Anglia


The Enterprise Centre, a new building on the University of East Anglia (UEA) campus is an outstanding example of sustainability and low-embodied carbon construction. This was a key requirement of the brief; the client, the Adapt Low Carbon Group, is an organization responsible for promoting and funding low carbon start-up groups and working with local companies to stimulate economic growth and reduce their impact on the environment. The client, the architectural practice Architype and the construction company Morgan Sindall, the single point deliverer of the project, worked together to achieve a building which is sustainable in every sense; natural, local, low carbon and the first large scale commercial building in the UK to achieve both Passivhaus standard and BREEAM Outstanding rating. It demonstrates how materials, especially timber, can be sourced locally, used in innovative ways and designed to create an alternative aesthetic that strives to be genuinely local, reflects the surrounding vernacular, and embeds the building in its regional context.

The Enterprise Centre stands next to the main road at the threshold of the university campus, acting as a gateway to UEA’s Norwich Research Park. In plan the two-storey building is E-shaped, with narrow wings so that natural light and ventilation can penetrate the interior effectively. The shape forms a three-sided courtyard with its open side facing the road to create an inviting main entrance which is sheltered by a high-level timber canopy. Even here, at first glance, the building’s locally sourced low carbon credentials are clear; Norfolk thatch, recycled timber cladding, glulam columns of local larch and locally sourced flint shingle can be seen.

The courtyard leads to a generous entrance foyer and exhibition/gallery space with an original Norman Foster reception desk reclaimed from the nearby Sainsbury Centre. It leads to a single storey 300-seat lecture theatre which extends into the courtyard. Both ground and first floors have generous timber-framed corridors leading to a series of flexible workspaces. These include teaching and learning facilities, an innovation lab, business ‘hatcheries’ and incubator units for SMEs and start-ups in the low carbon sector. Academic and business facilities are placed side by side in the same building to foster innovation and stimulate new ways of working.

With such sustainable credentials it is not surprising that the Enterprise Centre is also a working demonstration building, attracting visits by over 150 companies even during construction. It has been a case study at conferences and is now a favourite destination for overseas visitors specialising in sustainable construction.

The project team determined to use reclaimed, recycled and/or renewable materials, but particularly ones which could be locally sourced, which would reduce transport costs and support the local economy. Local materials were used in all parts of the building, even the foundations have a locally recycled sub-base and a concrete slab of recycled steel, locally sourced aggregate and ground granulated blast furnace slag, cast on a bed of inert insulation. 

All new timber used is sourced as PEFC or FSC. The structure is a timber glulam frame of beams and columns, supporting floors of timber I-joists and walls of studwork. Architype worked with the Forsestry Commission and Cygnum, a Suffolk timber frame contractor, to produce the studwork from local Corsican pine from Thetford forest, only 30 miles away, a timber which had previously only been used for woodchip and fencing products. The timber was kiln-dried and graded in Ireland. As a result, 70 per cent of the studwork made of the local Corsican pine (the rest is sikta spruce sourced from within the UK).

The glulam columns that support the entrance canopy were made in the UK of larch sourced from nearby Suffolk. The glulam timber frame together with the cross-laminated timber enclosure for the lift shaft were supplied by the Austrian company, Kaufmann.

The external cladding demonstrates a dynamic mix of sustainable and recycled materials, the most innovative being the prefabricated and vertically hung thatch panel cassettes, a world first. Thatch, a blend of wheat and straw, is a carbon-negative material, local and easily sourced. It also has excellent insulation properties, is naturally waterproof and has a long lifespan. Architype and Morgan Sindall worked with local thatchers to develop a slide-in cassette to house the panels of thatch which lock together on a seamless split-baton system. The cassette frames vary in size but most measure about 1.2 x 3 metres and are between 250 and 300mm thick. They are made of spruce plywood and were prefabricated; assembled by local joiners off-site during the winter.

The south facing clerestories on the roof which light the first floor corridors have also been thatched using reed from the Norfolk Broads and from Dingle marshes in Suffolk.

The south-facing façade has a rainscreen cladding of external grade MDF, designed as a trial panel to to test what could be a cost effective and low-carbon alternative to external finishes. The lower level ground floor facades are clad with panels of twenty-year-old seasoned oak, reclaimed from a local timber yard and originating from country estates in Norfolk.

Almost every part of the building is based on timber or cellulose. Instead of plasterboard, the walls and some ceilings are finished with timber slats lined with acoustic fabric; the use of timber raises the thermal capacity of the building and creates a warm and pleasant finish to the offices. Wood wool acoustic soundboards, likewise a low embodied energy product, are also used together with a range of natural wall coverings including nettle fabric, earth board, locally sourced reed boards and a rustic hemp and lime render. All coatings and paints are solvent-free with organic paints and vegetable-based oils. Their textures and colours are emphasized in the natural light of the interiors. The first floor ceilings demonstrate the use of a new type of acoustic finish; a spray-on cellulose material made from 85 per cent recycled paper. Elsewhere, floors of recycled car tyres cover areas of heavy use. These natural toxin-free finishes complement the very high levels of comfort provided by the Passivhaus specification.

The Enterprise Centre has been designed to Passivhaus principles which minimise the carbon footprint and lead to a highly airtight building which need virtually no heating. The E-shaped plan simplifies cross ventilation and in winter the mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) system provides fresh air with almost no heat load. As the windows are modest in size, triple glazing was affordable. A planning requirement was for 10 per cent of the building’s energy to come from renewable resources; the 480m2array of photovoltaic panels on the roof exceeds this.

On completion the net embodied impact of the finished building will be less than 500kg CO2/m2 over the entire 100 year life cycle, which is remarkably low when compared to a similar university building built to ‘best practice’ standards which can expect to have emitted 800-900kg CO2/m2 by the first day of occupation. A three year post-occupancy building performance evaluation programme has been implemented to ensure that the building performs as designed.

Completion Date:

June 2015

Year Published:

April 2016

Building Type:

Academic/office building


Norwich, East Anglia


Adapt Low Carbon Group/UEA



M&E, Acoustic and Structural Engineer:


Main Contractor:

Morgan Sindall (single point deliverer)

Timber Supplier:

Cygnum, Kaufmann, Inwood, WISA, Medite Tricoya, Fox Joinery

Timber Elements:

structural frame, floors and walls, wall and ceiling finishes, cladding

Timber Species:

English Corsican pine, English larch, Irish sitka spruce, European redwood, spruce and birch plywood, OSB, MDF

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