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17 June 2024

Flagship University Building Wins Major Architectural Award

Photo credit: Will Scott

Cardiff University’s flagship social sciences hub sbarc|spark has won a Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW) Award.

The judges described sbarc|spark as a ‘place that exudes innovation and joy’.

Located on Cardiff University’s Innovation Campus, sbarc|spark includes 12,000m² of workspaces, recreational areas, laboratories, exhibition spaces and breakout zones arranged around the ‘Oculus’ – a sculptural staircase that forms the heart of the building.

The building brings social science researchers, public sector leaders and entrepreneurs together in what the university describes as ‘a spirit of innovation, enterprise, and collaboration’.

It says the building’s design, by architects Hawkins\Brown, plays a vital role in supporting the university’s mission to ‘promote extraordinary thinking’.

Photo credit: Will Scott

At ground floor level, the staircase has banks of seating either side which can also be used as an auditorium for events. Breakout areas are on the landings at each level, with more private, concentrated work taking place at the building’s perimeter.

Professor Damian Walford Davies, Deputy Vice Chancellor, said:

“More a culture than a building, sbarc|spark is no ivory tower, no citadel. It’s an open, storeyed forge, designed from the outset to enable serendipitous encounters and exchange between academics, entrepreneurs, and regional business – with that staggered, staggering central staircase unifying it all. We’re delighted the design has been recognised with an award.”

sbarc|spark supports a growing community of more than 700 individuals from diverse backgrounds, fostering innovation and collaboration across sectors. It is home to SPARK – the world's first social science research park. SPARK brings together 16 interdisciplinary research groups to address issues that affect us all and is collaborating with over 100 partners across every continent of the world, including 50 in Europe.

Professor Chris Taylor, Academic Director of SPARK, said:

“We are extremely pleased to see the RSAW recognise the design of the sbarc|spark building. It is a building that has helped recognise and symbolise the enormous value of social science research to society and has been designed in such an exceptional way to encourage collaboration, remove silo-working, foster imaginative and creative thinking, and encourage greater visibility and transparency of social science research.”

It also hosts Cardiff Innovations  which welcomes more than 40 external organisations, ranging from graduate entrepreneurs to NGOs and private sector, to its co-working, lettable office units and labs.

Photo credit: Will Scott

Dr John Barker, Associate Director of Innovation at SimplyDo, one of the tenants of sbarc|spark, said:

“Locating our business at sbarc|spark was an obvious choice for us. Beyond the unique opportunity it affords to co-locate with Cardiff University researchers, this striking space provides a fantastic venue to host large collaboration and knowledge exchange events, as well as great boardroom facilities to hold high-level business meetings with our clients including Rolls-Royce, Airbus Defence & Space, and Welsh Government. This impressive building reflects so many of our own core business values – a focus on collaboration, a commitment to excellence, and innovation through simplicity.”

Julia Roberts, Partner and Education sector lead at Hawkins\Brown, said:

“We are thrilled that sbarc|spark's design has been recognised as key to the growth and success of the region, and that its role as a welcome front door to Cardiff University is being fulfilled. It’s also proving a great place for the wider community to meet, learn, network, and enjoy an atmosphere of world-class research, creativity, and knowledge.”

The five RSAW Award 2024 winners will now be considered for a prestigious RIBA National, which will be announced on July 11. The shortlist for the RIBA Stirling Prize for the best building of the year will be drawn from the RIBA National Award-winning projects later in the year.

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