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Copper Exeter Forum, Exeter, UK

The second project designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects featured here is The Forum, a new campus entrance and hub for students at the University of Exeter, characterised by a soaring timber-framed, ETFE and copper roof - as the architects explain.

The Forum links essential facilities such as the Great Hall, lecture theatres and the Student Guild along a galleried, indoor high-street - lined with cafes, a shop and a bank. A student services centre takes a prominent position within the new building, broadening and enhancing the range and availability of pastoral services that the University offers. A newly built state-of-the-art auditorium, specially commissioned public art, landscaped open spaces and refurbished library complete the Forum, making it the heart of the social and academic life of the University.

The starting point for our design was the natural features of Exeter's famously hilly Streatham campus. The orientation and arrangement of the building and its adjacent landscaped piazzas respond to the contours of the hillside setting, which are traced by a “green corridor” - the main pedestrian route through the scheme. The steep topography of the hillside has been rationalized into two circulation levels that connect the Library and the Great Hall, unifying two vital centres once separated by a steep slope.

Undulating Copper Clad Roof

A landscaped Entrance Piazza defines a new front door to the campus and provides students with high quality open space for relaxation at the natural centre of the campus. At the north western end of the Entrance Piazza stands a new entrance building that provides a reception area for the University and Great Hall. The smooth curve of the entrance building rises one storey, tracing the northern elevation of the Great Hall above a covered walkway before merging with the centrepiece of the Forum project: an undulating timber grid-shell roof, clad in copper and ETFE, designed in conjunction with engineering experts, Buro Happold.

Beneath the roof and behind the glass facades that enclose the space between the existing buildings, the Forum is an airy, galleried hall which shelters and unifies a series of new student-focused spaces. The upper level gives access to the Great Hall, Student Guild and a new suite of learning labs and seminar spaces designed for Harvard-style exploration sessions. The Forum’s vertical arrangement unifies the two circulation levels of the plan, creating new accessible routes that make the campus more legible and easier to get around.

At ground level, the “green corridor” runs through the building, creating a covered high street with a bank, shops, cafes, breakout spaces and access to the library, student services centre and auditorium. The auditorium is a new building also designed by Wilkinson Eyre providing a 400-seat lecture theatre with state-of-the-art equipment and seating, and spectacular views out to landscaped lawns.

Column-free Floor Area

The Forum’s roof encloses 3,500 m2 of airy, column-free floor area making it one of the largest timber roofs of its kind. Its flowing form contrasts with the orthogonal brick architecture of the existing campus, responding to the hillside setting and preserving key views across the city to Dartmoor. Beneath the roof’s copper cladding, which will gracefully develop a green patina over the next 15 years or so, lies an innovative hybrid timber structure. A matrix of timber members joined at steel nodes emulates the traditionally all-steel construction of a grid-shell roof, weaving between the existing buildings of the campus.

The triangular cells of the grid are either clad in copper, with oak-slatted acoustic baffling on the interior surface, or filled with ETFE pillows which flood the lofty interior spaces of the Forum with natural light. Smaller panels of conventional glazing are used in the roof windows above teaching areas to mitigate any possible noise caused by falling rain.

Sustainability Credentials

The Forum was designed to achieve a BREEAM “excellent” rating. While the sustainability credentials of the timber structure and copper cladding are apparent, other features such as natural stack ventilation, a labyrinth pipe air-cooling system and energy efficient lighting maximise the environmental performance of the main building in use.




University of Exeter
Completion date: 
United Kingdom
Zip code: 
EX4 4QJ,
Exeter, Devon
The Queen's Dr


Type of building: 
Copper used: 


Name, office: 
Wilkinson Eyre Architects

Copper contractors

Address & description: 
Copper Product: TECU Classic

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