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Arcadia Nursery, University of Edinburgh, UK

The Arcadia Nursery is the first of two projects within the historic campuses of the University of Edinburgh designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects, characterised by a copper alloy and with a firm sustainability agenda in mind - as its designers explain. 

The new building provides early-years education for over 100 children aged from six weeks to five years and has been designed to facilitate a ‘free-play’ concept, whilst ensuring the children are safe and easily supervised. It was conceived as a free-flowing series of interconnected spaces that could be opened-up or closed-off to suit the activities of the day, with the focus not solely being one playroom per age group, but a series of additional spaces - such as shared ‘messy’ and art rooms, a children’s kitchen, raised cosy mezzanine spaces for quieter times, and a music and reading room. These are all connected at the heart of the building with a flexible welcome and circulation space, used for many functions including dining and coat storage.

Externally, each age group’s playroom is clearly identifiable as a welcoming, domestic – but also contemporary - form, creating a sense of belonging and ownership for each age group. The roof forms and some facades are clad in a golden copper alloy which gives a visual lightness and warmth while adding a presence appropriate to the historic university location.

These three pavilions are then linked together by a single storey building, with large rooflight views to the tree canopy above. The desire to respect the façade of the adjacent ‘listed’ Joseph Black chemistry building led to a more compact footprint, with raised mezzanines for the children and a first floor area for offices, staff and a family room. The different trapezoidal roof forms of the pavilions reflect the varied internal spaces.


Along with a requirement to achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating, the client was keen from the outset to create a highly sustainable building. We also felt the building’s use leant itself as an educational tool in its own right, to teach children about the varying aspects of approaching life in a sustainable manner. It was also of foremost importance that a healthy, calm environment was created for the children. The cross-laminated timber structure provided the perfect combination of creating a warm, tactile interior, whilst also using a natural, sustainable product that could structurally achieve the clear roof volumes required to ensure the mezzanines spaces were not compromised.

The specification of all materials was carefully considered. Materials were chosen that are renewable, have low embodied energy and a minimal carbon footprint – criteria that the copper alloy easily met - whilst also creating a vapour-open, breathable building fabric with high air-tightness. This ensured that a high indoor air quality was achieved by minimising or eliminating products which emit low level toxicity. The design stage BREEAM assessment achieved a high score of 82.2%, with material and pollution sections achieving a 100% score.


The BRE ‘Green Guide to Specification’ is a useful guide for assessing the sustainability of architectural materials and provides independent endorsement of the low environmental impact of both copper roofing and cladding. It rates a wide range of complete building elements from ‘A+’ to ‘E’, using Life Cycle Assessment techniques.

Ratings form an important part of BREEAM and credits are available for using specifications for key building elements (e.g. external walls and roofs) with low embodied environmental impact. Various complete wall or roof build-ups are considered, each including materials for structure, insulation, moisture control and finishes. All the copper-finished roofs and most copper wall cladding specifications included achieved A+ or A summary ratings. Even the few build-ups with lower ratings could be improved easily with replacement components, without affecting the copper skin itself.

Copper’s longevity is a major strength, resulting from its complex patination process that ensures extreme durability with no maintenance and resistance to corrosion in virtually any atmospheric conditions. 



Arcadia Nursery, University of Edinburgh
Completion date: 
United Kingdom
Zip code: 
Max Born Crescent


Roof parts/dormer
Type of building: 
Copper used: 
Golden alloy


Name, office: 
Malcolm Fraser Architects

Copper contractors

CLM Roofing Ltd
Address & description: 
Copper produst: Nordic Royal



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