Work is well underway at the iconic Brunel House in Bristol

Brunel House stands at the foot of Brandon Hill, to the north of Bristol Cathedral and its associated College Green. One of Bristol’s most iconic buildings, it’s façade was originally built in 1839 as The Great Western Hotel, designed by Architect Richard Shackleton Pope with the grand arches designed by famed Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The building was a component of Brunel’s visionary scheme to provide an integrated method of travel between London and New York starting with his Great Western Railway. The hotel accommodated travellers in Bristol ahead of boarding Brunel’s celebrated steam vessel the SS Great Britain for the Trans-Atlantic crossing.

Brunel’s engineering, whilst widely known and highly regarded, is relatively rare where not directly associated with railway engineering, making Brunel House an outstanding and well preserved piece of Brunel’s legacy.

The site was redeveloped with new construction of offices behind the Neo-Classical façade in the early 1980’s and until February 2017 was occupied by Bristol City Council. The façade is Grade 2 listed along with the associated and unique Horse Bazaar to the rear of the building, which was originally used as a drop off area for hotel guests arriving by horse and carriage, and later as an auction house for equine sales.

Unite Students acquired the site in February 2017 and appointed RG Group to convert the existing building into a 246 Bed student accommodation residence. The £10m construction commenced 18th September 2017, with completion planned for 26th July 2018.

Challenges and solutions:

  • The topography of the site is extremely challenging with 3 storeys of level difference and restrictive access.
  • Site logistics are challenging with minimal space available on site and access directly off a roundabout.
  • Refurbishment of existing office building with a classical Grade 2 façade. A particular challenge has been how to incorporate an efficient layout of bedrooms in relation to the existing building grid and layout of windows.
  • A significant amount of adaptive structural alterations are required to the existing building.
  • BREEAM Excellent rating required which requires significant endeavour for an existing building.
  • Retention and adaptation of the existing building fabric, layout, access and maintenance regime. The existing construction dates from 1982, when CDM regulations were not applied with the rigour applied in modern construction projects. Significant adaptive processes are required to ensure the development is designed and handed over in a way that is considered safe by today’s standards.
  • Due to the architectural significance and heritage of the building, 47 planning conditions have been applied to the development.

Architect: Alec French Architects (Planning) / Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson (Delivery)
Structural Engineer: Tier Consult
Services Consultant: Brentwood Design Partnership

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