By Zoe Kramer
The construction of Cardiff University’s new Centre for Student Life (CSL) outside of the Students’ Union began just over a year ago and is one of the university’s largest construction projects in recent years. However, what can we expect to see in this new building when it opens?
According to Cardiff University, the CSL is “part of the biggest campus upgrade in a generation” and will become the beating heart of Cathays Park Campus.
Plans for the building include a 550 seat auditorium, consultation rooms and two units of commercial space, amongst many other new facilities.
A Cardiff University spokesperson said, “The Centre for Student Life will create a central purpose-built environment for students.” It “will provide a different type of environment [to Cardiff University Students’ Union and] will enhance and extend our support services and provide additional study spaces.”
Moreover, the university has said that the CSL will “bring together a range of support services” allowing it to offer a “more diverse and appropriate range” of support mechanisms for student mental health, including drop-in sessions and more opportunities for student counselling.
The Centre will also provide a space for prayer and reflection, washing facilities and careers and employability services alongside a new lecture theatre, a university spokesperson has said.
The new building will be a separate entity from the Students’ Union and will stand at 28m tall and 140m long, including 8,500 square meters of space. The project is currently on budget for £50 million.
As of April 2019, construction of the building’s concrete frame began and we can now see the CSL beginning to take shape. According to Cardiff University’s website, the stairs outside the front of the Students’ Union will soon be demolished to make way for further construction, and the university has stated that following their demolition, students will only be able to access the Union through a temporary entrance near Cathays Station.
The new building has received a mixed response from the community.
“I think the Centre for Student Life is not needed at all. I am not really sure what it will provide that we do not already have provided by our Students’ Union. Our Student’s Union has really excellent facilities and houses lots of societies and events and I’m not sure what it is missing,” said a student who preferred to remain anonymous. Sai, a third-year Journalism, Media and Sociology student, also said, “I have mixed feelings about the new building. On the one hand it’s been planned for a very long time and I assume they have good reasons to build it, for example more rooms for student support etc. But on the other hand I just feel like the money should be used for other stuff.”
Moreover, Cathays Labour Councillor Sarah Merry has described it as “a blight on the conservation area.” Heath Conservative Councillor Lyn Hudson also said the CSL is not “in keeping with the character of the area.”
However, others are feeling positive. Molly Sedgemore, a second year student, said, “I’m hopeful that the work on the new Centre for Student Life is going to be beneficial to Cardiff students, particularly those who suffer with their mental health.
“I think the Centre will make a great addition to the university and act as a necessary development in the mental health support that the university already offers.”
Furthermore, Riverside Labour Councillor Iona Gordon has said, “The quality of this design is brilliant. I think it’s a most incredibly interesting solution to such an unusually shaped site. I think the design is fantastic actually”, adding that the design is not dissimilar to the architecture of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
In response to these comments, a Cardiff University spokesperson said, “We are aware that the construction work is causing some inconvenience for some of our students, for which we apologise.
“We also fully appreciate there have been concerns relating to the location and design of the Centre for Student Life.”
The design of the building was done by architecture firm Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, whose other work in Cardiff includes the Gweithdy Building at St. Fagan’s National Museum of History. Outside of Cardiff, they have also designed the Manchester School of Art, the Royal Airforce Museum and the Southbank Centre. The CSL design features a modern aesthetic, with columns down the front and a main wall featuring prominent window panels to let in natural light.
The building design is being billed as environmentally conscious with Cardiff University making it clear that the CSL has “been designed with sustainability in mind.’’ For example, there are plans to build photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into power, as well as natural ventilation and energy-efficient lighting. However, the green roof touted on the Cardiff University website as part of the sustainable initiative of the building will not be put into effect.
According to the university website, the CSL will be assessed using the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) which is a “world-leading” sustainability assessment wherein the environmental, social and economic sustainability of a building, alongside its ability to enhance the well-being of those living and working within it, are measured. According to the university’s website, the building’s design is “world class” and is one which “makes a positive contribution to the conservation area.” It is reported that the new building is on track to achieve an “Excellent score”.
Ultimately, a spokesperson for the university has expressed, “We value the views and opinions of our students. The Centre for Student Life is just one example of how we’re transforming the way that we support student life, based on feedback from our students.”