The £40 million Gateway development for Durham University consisted of:

  • a major extension to the Bill Bryson Library;
  • a new Law School, which brought together staff previously located on two different sites;
  • the Palatine Centre - a building which combines all the student facing services and is home to the University's Executive.

It is an example where collaboration at both design, d
igital architecture and engineering levels played an essential role.

The initial concept, developed by PH Partnership Architects, was the successful entry to a Design Competition let by Durham University. PH Partnership collaborated with Space Architects to develop the design, interior design and delivery of the project. Both practices led the design team at different stages of the project but also concentrated individually on developing the design of the specific buildings making up the project.

Engineering support was provided by Cundall.





The project was designed and constructed using Building Information Modelling (BIM), a digital prototyping and collaboration platform that was used throughout the project to ensure a coordinated approach to the architectural, structural and building services. BIM was also used to define the dimensions and geometry parameters of all precast components including the beams, columns and stairs. At the time, this was revolutionary as it allowed the cast elements to be manufactured directly from the model as opposed to the traditional method of the exchange of inaccurate 2D information which then needed refining between the subcontractor and the manufacturer. By adopting BIM, significant savings were made with regard to cost and time.

The development was defined as a pathfinder project for the contractor, Laing O’Rourke, and from start to finish it pushed digital construction boundaries and engineering capabilities. The use of BIM allowed the project team to merge their models on a regular basis to check for any coordination issues via clash detection.

An example of this was the innovative incorporation of power grids and data cableways into the voids within the floor slabs, which were slotted between reinforced layers in the pre-cast concrete structure. This required clash detection tests to be performed to see how it would work on- site and potential problems could be resolved before a brick was laid, allowing the project to hit its targets in terms of design, cost, quality and safety.  

3D design development of the whole project (in context) allowed maximisation of aspect across Durham City and guaranteed stunning views of the Cathedral and Castle beyond.  Sympathetic use of natural materials wrap the simple frame in an organic yet bold form, offering a unique, sustainable design solution which compliments the prominent site, while softening scale.  The design maximises usage of the site and flexibility of internal accommodation.  The design is bold and distinctive while form and shape are broken and punctuated to reduce scale, maximise natural daylight, and emphasise views and context.




Bill Bryson Library

Designed by Space Architects, the building itself is an impressive sight and provides additional space to house most of the University of Durham’s modern printed books and journal collections. As well as this, it now offers more than 1200 study spaces, a number of perimeter study rooms and areas for post graduate study. To provide balance and assist with wayfinding, a sinuous climbing stair case was introduced to dynamically link all four floors of an atrium.


Law School and Palatine Centre

Designed by PH Partnership with technical support from Space Architects, the building was developed as a highly site specific solution and concept, with careful consideration to surrounding environmental factors.  Accommodation is distributed around a central, spinal atrium which acts as an internal “street” providing natural light and views to and from all areas, while creating a primary circulation route which delivers users to social spaces and landscaped courtyards at each end of the building. 


Gateway project awards:

RICS Renaissance Awards 2013: Design Innovation – Shortlisted 
Durham Environment Awards 2013: Built Form – Winner and Outstanding Award 
Constructing Excellence Awards 2013: Collaborative Working – Winner and Building of the Year


About the #FutureBuildings exhibition

Create your own building of the future and try out technologies that are breaking the boundaries of what’s possible in construction. Our Future Buildings exhibition runs from 22nd June to 9th September as part of the Great Exhibition of the North. 

Find out more

Visit the PH Partnership Architects website
Visit the Space Architects website