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Westfield Student Village, Queen Mary University of London, UK

Chris Hodson

One of the largest new student residence schemes in Britain, designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects, includes very different styles of copper cladding on two major buildings along the ‘exposed’ public edges of its East London site.

The Westfield Student Village at Queen Mary University of London has 995 bed spaces in flats and maisonettes.

Pooley Hall is an eight-storey building which sits parallel to the railway and is clad in horizontal bands of pre-oxidised copper. This building literally acts as an acoustic shield to the rest of the site and protects it from noise, while the elevations facing the railway have high acoustic ratings, with triple glazed windows and a highly insulated external wall.

Sir Christopher France House, clad in vertical panels of pre-patinated copper, forms the eastern edge of the pedestrian street and completes the University’s elevation to the Grand Union Canal and Mile End Park. The form of this building is perforated by a full height cut, lined in stainless steel, which allows views into and out of the campus and splits the accommodation into two forms.

The copper cladding package for the Westfield Student Village was, at the time, the largest subcontract of its kind in Europe. The University was keen to have buildings and materials that gave a strong and lasting identity to the outside world. Copper was selected for the project as it achieved the visual impact required for these blocks combined with a long lifespan and extremely low maintenance.

Alex Whitbread of Feilden Clegg Bradley said: “Copper is one of the few materials available that can combine striking visual qualities with strong sustainability credentials, near zero maintenance and long building life. It is not often that a cladding material can satisfy the demands of the client, the architect and the contractor but the copper at Westfield Student Village has managed to achieve this. Copper used on such a grand scale can become a very economic cladding – capable of withstanding the pressures of fast track construction programmes and the demands of design and build contracts”.

The various treatments available with copper allowed the same material to be used with striking visual contrasts. It is also acknowledged that the copper will weather differently over time, giving a variety of colour between different elevations and additional character to the blocks. The strong environmental credentials of copper were also a major consideration in the material selection with up to 70% of the material used being from recycled stock. The copper cladding was very much conceived as a ‘skin’ – either pushed into or pulled away from the main body of the buildings.

The elevational composition of the buildings was defined by contrasting the vertical and horizontal uses of the material to emphasise the two contrasting building forms. A special module of 450mm seam centre-to-centre was selected to co-ordinate with the specified window module. To further emphasise the difference between the two blocks a single lock seam was used on Pooley House for a strong horizontal while a double lock seam was used on Sir Christopher France House to provide a more subtle vertical grain.

The dramatic north elevation of Pooley House, fronting the railway, comprises a series of projecting bays or flippers designed to be seen at high speed from passing trains. These "flippers" proved to be the most challenging elements on the project to detail, having to incorporate shifting pitched roof geometries interfacing with set horizontal seam dimensions. Accommodation of vertical structural movement had to be allowed for across all elevations which was done by the use of dummy seams & eaves details at window heads to allow for deflection in the cladding. In addition to the two main copper clad blocks some of the courtyard brick buildings had projecting feature kitchen bays, clad in the pre-oxidised copper. These were employed as large sample areas to test and agree details prior to their use on the main buildings, while also providing an integrated and harmonising presence of copper across the new student village.



Queen Mary, University of London
Completion date: 
United Kingdom
Zip code: 
Westfield Way, Mile End


Type of building: 
Copper used: 


Name, office: 
Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects
Address & description: 
21 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 8BA

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