This year we undertook an exciting collaboration with Hoare Lea, an award-winning global engineering consultancy.

As education is a key sector for Umow Lai in Australia, Hoare Lea Partner Ian Durbin took the time to provide his insights into the higher education sector in the UK.

Hoare Lea Partner, Ian Durbin

Q. Tell us about your role at Hoare Lea and a little bit about the firm in general
Hi, I’m Ian Durbin and I am a Partner at Hoare Lea. I’ve more than 30 years of experience in engineering across variety of sectors. However, in the later stages of my career my primary focus has been on science and research facilities, with plenty of overlap into the higher education sector.

Q. What has that higher education work involved?
Because of my science and research focus, most of my personal recent higher education projects have been labs and research spaces. Thanks to our longstanding client relationships with a number of high-profile universities, our firm has been involved with all manner of higher education projects. These include everything from the Stirling-prize-nominated Blavatnik building at the University of Oxford, to the world-class acoustic marvel that is the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Exciting stuff!

Q. What are some key opportunities that are appearing in the UK higher education sector?
There really is no substitute for maintaining a local presence in our higher education target areas. Not only do our offices in Oxford and Cambridge have the benefit of being closer to the client, meaning we’re able to visit sites more often, but they are also a part of the communities that the university estates are helping to build.
Another opportunity we are seeing more and more of is being asked to bring our specialist groups – such as acoustics, lighting, and performance – into conversations with higher education clients at a much earlier stage. This allows them to demonstrate the benefits of their specialist expertise sooner rather than later!

Q. What are some key challenges facing the UK higher education sector?
At the moment, the challenges can also be viewed as opportunities… depending on how you look at them.
The first is an increased specialisation of spaces. Not just in science and research, but across all academic fields we are seeing a focus put on designing highly complex spaces that require real expertise and knowledge, as well as effective cross-collaboration between architects, contractors, and our multiple specialisms.
The next challenge is in on the other side of the scale – it’s about the ability to be flexible and not only change to suit the changing users of the building but to grow with the building. Our work with the University of Birmingham’s Hive Theatre is a perfect example of this. It’s an experimental teaching spaces that uses acoustics and audiovisual technology to transform the space depending on the goals of the teachers and students.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your favourite project?
The recently completed Beecroft Building for the University of Oxford really is something special in my eyes.
The facility is going to be used for potentially world-leading research into quantum computing. The research requires extreme precision and so the MEP services had to be designed to incredibly strict vibration and temperature controls. I am so proud of what the team achieved on this project and I’m excited to see what new research will follow now the building is officially open!

Find out more about Hoare Lea here
Read more about our collaboration with Hoare Lea

Beecroft Building, University of Oxford

Beecroft Building, University of Oxford