Icons of the 1960s are in need of £11bn makeover

Report says buildings require costly repairs as they near the end of their lives, writes Chloe Stothart

April 24, 2008

Iconic university buildings of the 1960s are in need of repairs, and in some cases demolition, that would cost at least £11 billion, according to the Association of University Directors of Estates.

In The Legacy of 1960s University Buildings, a report published this month, the AUDE says that more than 40 per cent of the UK's campus estate was built in the 1960s and early 1970s and is now near the end of its life. In the worst state are the campuses of universities that were founded in that period.

The problems include concrete cancer, asbestos, energy inefficiency, inaccessibility to people with disabilities and user-unfriendly layouts.

Some buildings could be bought up to scratch via major refurbishment, although the cost of this would be about 80 per cent of the cost of a new building, the report says. But refurbishment can be more environmentally friendly than demolishing and replacing old buildings.

A 2002 report commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England found that the sector faced a £3.5 billion repairs backlog.

Patrick Finch, director of estates at the University of Bath and chair of the steering group behind the AUDE report, said: "Many universities have spent nothing like the amount they should have done on maintaining the buildings ... All the problems are coming to a head at the same time, so we have to put substantial funding into refurbishment of the estate. A significant number of these buildings will need major investment, and the buildings that have already had that are in the minority."

In the past, many universities ploughed their Hefce funding for buildings into creating new facilities rather than maintaining old ones, he said, but the funding council was now strongly encouraging them to spend on upkeep. Many institutions were doing only enough refurbishment to comply with legislation and were not dealing with "decrepit" buildings, a strategy that could harm student recruitment in the long run, he said.

Some universities, such as East Anglia and Sussex, have landmark 1960s buildings that are listed and cannot be demolished.

East Anglia has spent £8.6 million refurbishing its ziggurat residences designed by Sir Denys Lasdun. Single-sex facilities were upgraded for mixed use, and plumbing and drainage were improved. The building's structure, however, made it difficult to install a lift to all floors and to change room sizes.

Sussex is in the midst of refurbishing its iconic buildings designed by Sir Basil Spence.

A Hefce spokesman said that rapidly rising operating and maintenance costs for universities meant that the condition of buildings "was a concern", but more efficient use of space would reduce the need for new buildings.

"Success with this will free up funds to deal with repair backlogs and ensure that we have the kind of quality spaces that we should expect in a world-class higher education system," he said.


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