Sbarc|spark Wins Major Welsh Architecture Award

Cardiff University

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

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

The building brings social science researchers, public sector leaders, and entrepreneurs together in a spirit of innovation, enterprise, and collaboration. Its design, by architects HawkinsBrown, plays a vital role in supporting the university's mission to promote extraordinary thinking.

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.

At ground floor level, the staircase forms a key element of the welcome to the building, with banks of seating either side of the stairs creating an informal social staircase that can also be used as an auditorium for events. As the staircase rises through the building it forms a spiral of collaboration, with breakout areas on the landings at each level producing lively activity zones closest to the Oculus, with more private, concentrated work taking place at the building's perimeter.

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.
Professor Damian Walford Davies Deputy Vice Chancellor

sbarc|spark supports a growing community of over 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."

sbarc|spark has fast become an important doorway into Cardiff University for a diverse range of partners and is already a place where people come together to not only talk about the societal challenges we face, but also to act on them.
Professor Chris Taylor Academic Director, SPARK

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

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."

  1. sbarc|spark

  2. Internal shot of spark looking down various floors with people working at a table

    Credit: Will Scott

  3. People working on the balcony at spark looking over the blue sky and Cardiff

    Credit: Will Scott

  4. Photograph looking down the staircase in spark as people stand around or walk down the stairs

    Credit: Will Scott

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Julia Roberts, Partner and Education sector lead at HawkinsBrown 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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