Rising from the Ashes: The rebirth of the Fry Building

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By Layla Link, 3rd Yr History

Refurbishment has been completed and doors have opened to students at the University’s Fry Building nearly two years on from the major fire that broke out on 6 January 2018.

It was almost two years ago when the fire was first spotted at around 5:20pm when smoke and flames could be seen coming from the maths building, covering Park Street and the Triangle. The smoke came from behind the Wills Memorial Building, one of the university’s most well-known landmarks and could be seen billowing across Bristol.

Helicopters and firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after the fire started, with at least nine fire engines involved. Nearby buildings were evacuated, including the Wills Memorial library which remained closed as a precaution. Students who were evacuated were advised by the University to use the extenuating circumstances process to inform their school of any disruption in preparation for their exams.

Later that night, firefighters released more details in a statement confirming that there were no casualties or combustion of ‘hazardous materials.’

Two days after the fire, it was confirmed by the Avon Fire and Rescue investigation that the fire was accidental, caused by refurbishment works which had been taking place earlier that day.

A document from November 2013 reveals the initial proposals for the refurbishment of the Fry building. The proposal outlined integrating the building further into the heart of the campus, by remodelling the surrounding external spaces.

The architects had the challenge of preserving the intrinsic character of the 1880 Grade II building whilst at the same time overhauling it by planting trees along the boundary, building an atrium linking to a 140 seat lecture theatre, adding a roof garden above, moving in over 1000 office chairs, and including countless new seminar rooms and offices. The development was a part of the University’s £525 million capital investment programme.

The refurbishment was funded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity that awards grants to support and promote excellence. The foundation has been supporting the University of Bristol’s research for more than 40 years, giving over £13.1 million to buy and build vital equipment and infrastructure. Its funds are generated through endowment and it supports over 10,000 projects across the UK, based on expert peer review and advice

Original work began on the new maths building began in March 2016 with plans to transform it into an ‘outstanding’ new home for the school of mathematics through a major £33 million refurbishment. In December 2017 the building reached a milestone with the installation of its Voronoi brise soleil screen, which is both an art installation and sunshade that borrows heavily from the Voronoi mathematical diagram. The work was due to be completed by Spring 2018, the fire delayed the project by over a year.

The work to get renovation ‘back on track’ began again in February 2018, with the University releasing a statement on the continuation of refurbishment: ‘work to refurbish the Fry building, which was damaged by fire at the start of January is continuing and our priority now is to ensure the refurbishment project progresses as quickly as possible.’ The damage largely destroyed the roof and the top floor of the South block, with water damage to the lower floors.

The damaged section of the building was made safe and work restarted in the areas unaffected by the fire. The contractor selected by the University to partner on the project was Balfour Beatty, one of the UK’s leading contractors with a significant amount of experience in the construction of University buildings.

The School of Mathematics moved back into the restored building on 4th September this year. The new building has lecture theatres, teaching rooms and a wide variety of spaces for students to study. There are areas for group working, silent study and socialising.

Epigram spoke to some of the lecturers and tutors about what they thought of their new office spaces. Dr Rachel Bennett, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, told us that the building ‘provides an excellent space for the School of Mathematics.’ She highlighted that it is an advantage that the whole School is now housed in the same building, making ‘discussion of ideas and collaboration across different branches of mathematics much easier’.

Maria Banks, Honorary Teaching Associate, was a little more pragmatic in her comments, stating that ‘the Fry Building is very sympathetically refurbished retaining original features although the offices are very modern in style. However, as one of my colleagues remarked, it is a bit kafkaesque in layout - a floor plan might help!’ She also mentioned that ‘it doesn't seem a welcoming place.’

Students have seemed generally positive about the refurbishment, with people describing it as ‘so cool’, ‘like a modern Hogwarts’ and ‘one of the nicest spaces at the university'

Featured: Courtesy of University of Bristol


Have you been to the Fry building yet, like it or hate it? Lets us know!

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