18 April, 2024
Transforming student experience at Buckinghamshire New University
An evolving partnership with BNU resulting in an inspiring education space that will impact the future success of students and staff.

The challenge              

Transforming BNU into a modern, globally appealing experience for students posed a unique challenge.

The solution            

Building a game-changing atrium and winter garden, the heart of the university, providing inviting spaces for student engagement.

The result            

Transforming the student experience, creating an inspiring university hub for pride, connectivity, and aspiration.

In the initial instance, Buckinghamshire New University (BNU)  were looking to develop a nursing and healthcare campus in Aylesbury. However, this quickly led to wider discussions and a larger project which has transformed the student experience and set the university on a new trajectory that will have a positive impact for years to come.


Rethinking the university experience a BNU

BNU started as a technical college and developed to gain higher education status, offering a variety of courses and competing with other universities across the UK, encouraged by former alumni, including TV presenter and now university Chancellor, Jay Blades MBE.

The university’s location in High Wycombe hasn’t made it a go-to destination for many young people, and it was clear from a feasibility review that we conducted, that the campus had grown sporadically without strategy.

As a result, the flow and intentionality of the space was incoherent and there were no facilities to keep students on campus between lectures.

The challenge was to improve the initial appeal of the university both nationally and internationally with a state-of-the-art student experience that supported individuals beyond the classroom. The whole project focused on transforming the student experience, creating an inclusive feel as well as generating a sense of pride in students past, present and future.


Inspiring spaces that bring people together

One of the first decisions we took, which immediately enhanced the way students and staff interact with the university, was to move the reception from a standalone building into the main campus, creating a central student focused hub.

This brought us to focus on a dilapidated concrete courtyard, termed the Rose Garden. We knew from consultancy that the university needed a heart of the campus – a place where staff and students could integrate, create spontaneous interactions and breakdown barriers.

We developed a design for the unused courtyard to meet that need, proposing to infill it with a three-storey atrium that included all student services creating a central community.

Next to this we added a two-storey glass structure that extended the refectory that included an indoor/outdoor area, known as the Winter Garden, that allows students to enjoy natural light and plant life, with a warm atmosphere to improve the student experience and encourage socialising.

Every detail was considered, creating inspiring spaces for people to operate in as they choose.

The result straddles the line between a state-of-the-art business centre that encourages aspiration and a nurturing educational environment.

Building from the ground up

As a complete design and build project, bringing structures out of the ground, supplying all the facilities and finishes, there were considerations that needed to be overcome.

Works went entirely to plan and were delivered on time for the start of the 2023 September student intake. There were challenges along the way such as the discovery of a culvert through the middle of the site, affecting where piling could be done, the removal of asbestos and issues with the existing roof that required a total overhaul.

Furthermore, logistics required care and attention as the university still had students in situ throughout. The works spanned three graduations, and all the education in between, so safety and noise considerations were a priority.

Changing the game at BNU

With the development of these spaces at BNU, we broke the mould of what universities do and can do, in terms of the development process, the results and the impact those results have on the university’s prospects.

By prioritising student experience and going through a proven development process, universities can have their desired outcomes at pace. Where traditional construction would take significantly longer, design and build provides high quality results in a short space of time.

For us, the client is at the forefront of our mind, so in this case we said we would deliver for a September intake, and we did.

Now, hundreds of students are on campus building relationships, playing ping-pong, enjoying quality food on a student budget, experiencing a warm, sheltered, supportive environment, gearing them up for the best educational outcomes.

By creating an environment that prioritises connection and socialising, it inspires universities to perform better with students and staff feeling proud of where they are. It spurs excitement and creates a space that attracts more students and more outside investment in a positive butterfly effect.

“This is one of the proudest projects of my career. We delivered on our promise, delivering an exceptional environment out of the ground. The result is already game changing for BNU and the individuals within it. If you talk to the students and staff now and they all have smiles on their faces which is wonderful to see.”

Alex Hunt, Managing Director at Maris Interiors

Do you want to transform your student experience in record time?

Speak to the team at Maris