University of Essex

A range of modern cluster and townhouse accommodation was constructed by the Uliving consortium, composed of major developer Bouygues UK and Derwent Living, the not-for-profit parent company of Derwent fm. Derwent Living provided equity for the scheme, whilst the construction work was carried out by Bouygues.

The university also transferred 502 of its existing residences to Uliving for refurbishment and Derwent fm is now providing a full range of support services to the renovated units.


During the course of this project, the expertise of our in-house technical department was supplemented by a specially-selected architectural consultant, Lewis & Hickey, with demonstrable knowledge of the higher and further education sector. The firm had previously designed varied student accommodation schemes, including one at Aston University comprising 2,353 new build en-suite student bedrooms and the refurbishment of 647 existing units.

Bouygues has significant experience in the design of student accommodation (as well as other residential developments), both in the UK and mainland Europe. Under this scheme, the new cluster blocks were created using an in-situ concrete structural system perfected by Bouygues over a number of years to provide a fast, flexible and cost-effective structural design.

Bouygues’ sustainability specialist worked alongside our external consultant GENEX to co-ordinate the BREEAM assessment, while our in-house accredited code assessor provided further expert input.

Derwent fm’s dedicated ICT specialist liaised with the university’s service provider to resolve potential interface issues and ensure operational system compatibility.

Design process

A range of key factors were considered during the design process, including:

  • Building orientation – this was optimised within the site constraints to take advantage of climatic factors such as sun paths, wind direction and rainfall;
  • Changes in levels across the site – in the context of our wider experience, this led us to step the buildings in line with the existing topography;
  • Reinforced concrete superstructure for the cluster blocks – this offers thermal insulation benefits;
  • Timber-frames for the townhouses – these used softwood sourced from managed forests that can demonstrate full PEFC Chain of Custody status;
  • Natural ventilation for study rooms – mechanical ventilation was restricted to areas such as en-suite bathrooms, toilets, kitchens and plant rooms;
  • Off-site fabrication of bathroom pods and panelised timber frame components;
  • Gas-fired modular boilers – these combined heat and power units include back-up boilers designed to achieve a 27% reduction in CO2 emissions;
  • Roof-mounted photovoltaic panels on the cluster blocks – designed to achieve a further 6% reduction in emissions.

Sustainability during construction

We maintained a highly-positive approach to sustainability throughout this scheme through implementing a number of measures, including:

  • Minimising the volume of waste created through careful management of site activities
  • Maximising the volumes of residual waste that could be recycled;
  • Using recycled and recyclable (non-timber) shuttering
  • Incorporating energy-efficient fittings in office and welfare accommodation
  • Using a skip-washing unit incorporating a water recycling system
  • Rationalising material and component deliveries to minimise vehicle
  • Gas-fired modular boilers – these combined heat and power units include back-up boilers designed to achieve a 27% reduction in CO2 emissions

As a result of this proactive approach, the scheme achieved BREEAM ‘Excellent’ and EPC ‘A’ ratings, as well as Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.

The buildings were designed in accordance with the university’s master plan and the borough council’s urban design framework. In developing our proposals we were able to demonstrate that the massing of the buildings complemented both the existing built environment and that envisaged within the master plan.

Project stats




£1.4m p/a


2,073 bedrooms