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New student 'habitat' opens in landmark building

Student social study space on the ground floor facing Queens Avenue Bhagesh Sachania

Student areas include individual study space on the first floor Bhagesh Sachania

6 April 2016

An historic building in the heart of Bristol has been transformed from a tired retail space into a modern facility for University of Bristol students and the public.

Beacon House, a Grade II listed building which was previously a Habitat store until it closed in 2011, will open today [11 April] as a student study centre, public reception and cafe after a £12 million investment.

Bristol-based firm Midas Construction, part of The Midas Group, has completely renovated the 2,643 square metre facility over the last eight months.

The project presented a number of challenges, namely the building’s location on a busy main road and the desire to preserve and enhance the listed part of the building which was built as a hotel in the 1850s.

In addition to the listed part of the building, there is also a more modern rear extension which acted as the main floor space for Habitat.

This area has been improved by fitting deeper plan windows to the first floor, removing redundant canopies and cleaning the stonework on the elevations.

Patrick Finch, Bursar and Director of Estates at the University of Bristol, said: “Beacon House was a very tired building but Midas Construction has done a fantastic job in transforming it into a modern and flexible environment for our students and the public to enjoy.

“The structure of the listed building has been difficult for us to work around, particularly where the reception and cafe are now sited. Despite these difficulties, we have managed to create a light, airy and welcoming space.

“Similarly, introducing services like air conditioning to meeting rooms and ventilation to spaces which will be used much more intensively by us than by Habitat has given rise to much thought about where to hide unsightly services so as not to impact the listed building.”

Beacon House has achieved a Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors SKA rating of bronze, mainly by upgrading insulation, introducing double glazed windows, fitting energy efficient boilers and using LED lighting.

Photo voltaic panels have also been added to the roof to provide electricity and carpet tiles are made from fishing nets recycled from small fishing villages in the Philippines.

While Beacon House’s location on the corner of Queen’s Avenue and the Triangle is ideal for the University, it presented logistical challenges during the construction phase due to the busy road and proximity to retail outlets and a nightclub in the basement of the building which remained operational throughout the renovation programme.

Derek Quinn, the Executive Director of Midas Construction, said: “This project is an excellent example of our commitment to industry leading performance and customer service in practice. Bristol University has praised our site team for the way they approached a challenging project by working collaboratively to hand over a high quality product on time and on budget.

“As a local firm that only used local sub-contractors during the project, we are proud to have transformed an historic local building for such a respected establishment.”

The project is the latest in a series of investments by the University in teaching and research facilities as part of its £525 million capital investment programme over 10 years.

Beacon House now boasts a study centre, complete with 388 study seats, 66 computers, social study spaces, a quiet study area and flexible group learning rooms.

The café will be open to the public seven days a week, as will the large reception area which provides a focal point for all visitors to the University.

The University says Beacon House will become a key part of the University’s campus thanks to its location between the Students’ Union and the central campus.

Professor Judith Squires, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bristol, said: “Beacon House is a really exciting addition to the University as the building is in such a prime position.

“It will accommodate, energise and inspire students in a welcoming and flexible environment, and showcase the best of the University to our visitors. As a site that promotes and celebrates learning we hope that it will become central to the University's engagement with its students and the wider city.”

The building has been carefully designed to meet the needs of students who increasingly need flexible study spaces in addition to traditional libraries.

It features easily moveable furniture so that the purpose of different spaces can be changed, sound-insulated booths to ensure quiet study, and even wireless mobile phone charging points.

Beacon House, next to the Royal West of England Academy, was constructed in the 1850s and was formerly the Queen’s Hotel before being used for retail purposes – Gardiners in the 1930s, Debenhams after the war and more recently Habitat, which closed in 2011.