University of Bristol Senate House
Senate House, University of Bristol internal view of students

Senate House brings together student social and support services for the University of Bristol, creating a new and identifiable ‘front door’ to the university whilst addressing modern student study and support needs.

Originally constructed in 1961, Senate House occupies a prominent location in the University of Bristol campus precinct. Now refurbished and re-purposed, it is a welcoming, student-centred ‘heart’ to the University that delivers high-quality flexible student commons and a new hub of activity which can be enjoyed by both students and staff. 

Key Information

Sector: Regenerative Design & Sustainability, Interior Design, Heritage & Creative Reuse, Higher Education

Client: University of Bristol

Location: Bristol

Completion: 2021

Size: 2,731 sqm GIA

The transformation of Senate House plays a pivotal role in creating a new campus heart at the University of Bristol. This challenging refurbishment required a strong team effort with embedded collaboration at the centre, and FCBStudios lead this with great aplomb.

Peter Mitchell, Project Manager, Capital Projects Campus Division, University of Bristol


The significance of the Senate House Building and its position within the university precinct alongside the many environmental benefits meant a retrofit solution was much favoured over demolition/rebuild.

The refurbishment works to the existing building have improved the envelope fabric, enabling the life of the building to be extended. The light touch, layered approach will enable the university to adapt the building in the future as requirements change.

The insertion of a new double-height extension to the entrance courtyard adds significant floor area to the building and unlocks the formerly inefficient floor plan. Linking the two lower levels together creates visibility between the different users, promoting the busy and social atmosphere of student life. It houses a large dining space and lively student bar, both of which are open to the public and attract footfall to the local area. Externally, the extension elevation has been designed to respond to the rhythm of the existing building façade whilst allowing sufficient light into, and views out of, the new dining spaces.   


The re-purposed building provides an inviting atmosphere for study, socialising and collaboration. It incorporates new spaces for the Students’ Union, including the SU Living Room and The SU Loft; areas which have been created specifically to address issues surrounding mental health, setting a new design precedent for student wellbeing.

These student owned spaces are purposefully non-institutional; University colours were intentionally avoided, and students were consulted early in the process with their comments directly influencing design decisions throughout. These consultations culminated in a collaborative artwork by The Fandangoe Kid, an international print artist who is an advocate for creating platforms for people to have an open dialogue about complex subject matters such as trauma, gender and mental health. The art piece created emphasises the University’s dedication to prioritising inclusivity, friendship and wellbeing amongst students.

Over 700 students visit the new SU Living Room at the University of Bristol every day, and according to a report by the University, students who have participated in social activities there say it’s helped them meet new people, improved their sense of community, and enhanced their sense of positive wellbeing.

Senate House Student Hub is by far our most popular student venue, the design really works as student’s feel its their space to hang out and enjoy their food, be with their friends or catch up on their study.

Barra Mac Ruairí, Chief Property Officer, University of Bristol


Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Main Contractor
Kier Construction
Civils and Structural Engineers
Curtins Consulting
BREEAM and Sustainability Advisor
SCS Partnership
Services Engineer
Priddy Engineering
Cost Consultant & QS
MEP, Acoustic, Fire Consultant
Planning Consultant
CSJ Planning
Client Heath & Safety Advisors
Chase Consulting Ltd
Project Manager
Wayfinding Consultant
Holmes Wood
Rebecca Noakes

FCBStudios Team Leads


RIBA Regional Award