UTT Omeara,
Trinidad

commenced 2005
completed 2005

Design Team: Jenifer Smith, Celiwe Villiers, Declan Luk Pat

Description
This project represented an enormous challenge to design and build the first campus building for the fledgling University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) within a 12-month period and tight budget constraints. Initially the design team assessed the possibility of refurbishing of an existing facility in Mausica, but this proved unsuitable. Fortunately an available site of 30 acres was quickly identified within the Omeara Industrial Estate, just north of the main east-west arterial road- the Churchill Roosevelt Highway located in the north of Trinidad. The site was generally flat, with views to the rolling hills of the Northern Range to the North. The site had existing road access and underground connections to main sewage and mains water services.

The brief required accommodation for administrative staff, teaching staff, laboratories, workshops, computer laboratories, classrooms, seminar rooms, library facilities and a cafeteria. The University intended to function as a 24-hour facility, with some classes taking place after normal working hours. Car parking was required for a minimum of 360 cars. Unlike traditional Universities, it is the aim of UTT to prepare students for work in the field and informal as well as formal interaction between administrators, academics, practitioners and students is to be encouraged.

The building is laid out around a series of external and internal courtyards. The main administration building includes a triple height central space, which is naturally lit from above by clerestory glazing. The C-shaped Academic Block encloses an external landscaped courtyard and the assemblage of these first two buildings plus the cafeteria form a third external larger courtyard which is open to the east. The library straddles the fae from the main atrium to the east courtyard. The main entrance faces South and acknowledges the junction on the Highway. The UTT Boardroom and Chairmans office are located on the first floor overlooking the main entrance. The faes of the cafeteria are fully glazed to the hills of the northern range and south to the main exterior courtyard.

This configuration offers a variety of public spaces for more informal gatherings and assemblies. The teaching staff work in an open plan with access to smaller meeting rooms for private consultation with students or other members of staff. All spaces are naturally lit, with the views being limited in the teaching and expanded in the less formal shared areas.

The choice of materials and finishes were driven by the speed required for the projects completion. The structural system is steel frame on a typical grid of 10.8 x 5.5metres. Fireproofing is provided by sprayed on intumescent paint, applied to the assembled frame on site thus obviating the need for cladding for fire protection purposes. The facade is a modular system of locally manufactured factory-assembled sandwich panels plus glazed panels of the same size, which are either fixed or operable. These elements provide the internal wall finish as well. The metal panels comprise PVF2 painted aluminium with insulation between for a high overall u-value. These are applied to a steel sub frame fixed to the main structure. The slabs are composite metal decking and screed, with the roof having an asphalt finish.

Internally, overhead services such as air conditioning ductwork and cabling are exposed. This allowed trades to work in a parallel to achieve the required speed of construction. This also provides the necessary flexibility in the configuration. Another example of this flexibility is the use of fairfaced blockwork walls for the main walls dividing the classrooms from the corridors with the dividing walls being constructed of gypsum board on metal framing so that the sizes of classrooms and offices can be changed.

Some of the construction techniques employed for this project were used for the first time in Trinidad and Tobago. At times the design had to be modified because of the restricted choice of locally available products. For example main steel members were replaced with larger members, the initial colour choice for the cladding panels had to be changed, internal floor finishes had to be changed etc. This required a dynamic interface between the design team and the various construction firms.

The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago inaugurated the building on 11 November 2005; just 10 months after the site preparation took place.