Universities face a unique problem: global demand for quality tertiary education is on the rise and shows no sign of abating. For TU Delft, one of the top universities in the Netherlands, the answer was clear: designing a new, versatile building offering additional teaching space.

An innovative place to learn and collaborate, ‘Echo’ is the first building on campus used by all faculties, which made functionality and flexibility key design drivers. Aligned with the universities’ ambition to be CO2 neutral and run a circular campus by 2030, the building design emphasises circularity and sustainability and puts the needs of students and staff at its heart.

The new interfaculty academic structure consists of four floors and includes teaching spaces with a flexible layout that can accommodate between 150 to 700 people.

Arup provided multi-disciplinary design and engineering services as part of a design team with UNStudio as architect and BBN as cost consultant.

Facilitating an inviting, adaptable education facility
The Echo interfaculty building houses seven new teaching rooms, many of which can be divided into separate spaces to reflect a range of education methods and study styles. Each of these spaces have been designed with the current and future needs of the university’s lecturers and students in mind, enabling maximum flexibility for the constantly changing world of learning. This is achieved through column-free floor plans and adaptable education spaces, which can be reconfigured to meet user demand.

The continuous glass façades are interrupted horizontally by deep aluminum awnings that keep out excess solar heat, while climbing plants along the cables connecting these canopies form a subtle green façade that filters daylight. To prevent excess sunlight penetration, a dynamic light barrier is used to provide indoor sun protection, and overheating is prevented by a combination of sun protection and the low solar penetration factor of the glass.

The future university building: energy positive and health conscious
Echo is the first energy positive university building in the Netherlands featuring a solar roof that generates more energy than the building consumes – including all user electricity from lighting systems as well as laptop charging. To help achieve this, we’ve introduced an innovative displacement ventilation system, which uses a slow-moving stream of fresh air from the floor to displace the waste air in combination with specific climatic zones differentiating between areas of work and areas of transit.

In conventional buildings, hallways and other areas typically feature the same heating as working spaces, allowing for massive amounts of unused energy to leak. With our work on Echo, we’re focusing on heating those areas where people are actually sitting down to study, learn, collaborate or drink and eat.

Bringing fresh air through a natural ventilation system
The ventilation system supports the health of students and staff: the floor plenum creates the purest air possible and expels stale air to the ceilings where it is extracted from the rooms. In this ductless system, less energy is needed to move air, as air is supplied via a large air plenum instead of ducts.

Innovatively, fresh air is moving from the ground up, finding its way to users of the building and then travelling to the ceiling with minimal mixing taking place with the air from the other vents – a technique that might help prevent the transmission of pathogens between students. Furthermore, natural ventilation is used to further reduce fan energy. Both the mechanical and electrical systems are laid out in a plug and play environment facilitating any future changes in the building setup – further improving the circular qualities of Echo.

Daylight – user comfort and wellbeing
The building is designed to allow in as much natural light as possible , saving significantly on the use of artificial (LED) lighting. Using advanced simulation and daylight analysis, we were able to prove that it was possible to allow ample daylight into the education spaces and auditorium, while ensuring screens remain visible for all the students.

Echo serves as an example of a completely new kind of public building, reflecting TU Delft’s drive for excellence in an interdisciplinary, multifunctional space that far exceeds today’s learning environments.