Behind the Build: Preston Barracks
MGAC was founded with the promise to take on the most interesting and challenging project ideas and make them a reality. Getting there is a matter of a million small steps, countless conversations, a multitude of carefully-calibrated decisions that take place between day one and that long-awaited project delivery day. Those are the moments that make a project. We’re revisiting them as we delve into the ways our talented, passionate team makes each of our projects possible. Today, we go Behind the Build and revisit our work with Preston Barracks.
At MGAC, we never shy away from a challenge, instead leaning into creative solutions for bringing ambitious visions to life—especially when those visions promise clear community impacts. Today, we dive into one such project as we go Behind the Build on Preston Barracks, Brighton’s largest regenerative effort to date. For the sweeping, mixed-use development, MGAC was brought on as a project manager during the master planning stage and provided cost management services to bring the landmark project to the finish line.
A PROPOSAL WITH TRANSFORMATIVE POTENTIAL
In the Lewes Road area of Brighton, Preston Barracks boasts a storied history, primarily as an active barracks during World War II. After having been derelict for decades, a group of stakeholders, starting with Brighton and Hove City Council and the University of Brighton, came together to bring new life back to the site. It was a transformation as big as they come—and Brighton’s largest regeneration project ever. If pulled off successfully, the scheme would create over 1,500 jobs, provide a major boost to the local economy, and connect the community in exciting new ways. It would also drastically increase the University’s student housing capacity and position the previously underdeveloped neighbourhood as a new hub for business and creativity.
The state of the site meant any reimagination would require extensive demolition, utilities installation, construction, and post-construction work, and the high-profile nature of the work made the planning phase all the more important. In these early stages, MGAC came alongside U+I Group to create a master plan and secure permissions to make the ambitious project possible.
Through active and intensive community relations, permissions were secured in 2017, and the plan for a true mixed-use development was born. The 2.2-hectare site would be divided into plots, designated for 376 new homes, student housing, and various academic buildings for the University of Brighton, and ‘Plus X Brighton,’ a 50,000 ft2 innovation hub for start-ups, makers, and other budding ventures.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
With the wider development of Preston Barracks underway, a robust group of project partners known as Plus X was formed. The team shepherded plans to create a new innovation hub, Plus X Brighton—an expansion of U+I Group’s concept for London’s Central Research Laboratory. In addition to key efforts by U+I Group and other Plus X stakeholders, the University of Brighton, Brighton and Hove City Council, and several local and regional parties contributed crucial work. The architecture for Plus X Brighton was helmed by Studio Egret West, with contracting services by Graham Construction. Following the master planning stage, Marick Real Estate came on as project manager, Scotch Partners served as the services engineer, and HOP oversaw the structural engineering work. Edburton provided civil contracting, as well as landscaping work, which continues today.
BRINGING PLUS X BRIGHTON TO LIFE
MGAC worked closely with Plus X to realise ambitions for design, sustainability, and function. We provided cost management services throughout the post-contract period, lending expertise with both short- and long-term value in mind. Our regular workshops with the core team kept this dynamic development on track.
Extremely design-oriented, the building would serve as the company’s flagship space (and set the tone for future branding and development). With this in mind, the Plus X team was particular about the look, feel, and functionality of every inch. To ensure a certain ‘wow’ factor, the design went through several iterations, finally landing on a plan that felt airy, bold, and modern. The realignments brought challenges from a cost perspective, but the finished product proved the extra time and effort worthwhile.
Thanks to visionary design and meticulous attention to detail, the completed Plus X Brighton is a true visual marvel, popular with locals and visitors alike. Throughout the warm communal workspaces and light-flooded conference rooms, rich textures, surprising bursts of colour, and dazzling lighting design create an inviting and inspiring environment—an incubator for creativity, and an impressive debut for the brand. In fact, it has become a blueprint to build more hubs across the United Kingdom, including the new Plus X Powerhouse in Hayes, West London, and three in development in Greenwhich, Mayfield, and Manchester.
GROUNDBREAKING TECH—AND NEW CHALLENGES
One of the Plus X campus’ most impressive features was also one of its most complex to execute. On the ground floor, a collection of high-tech workspaces would serve as a major draw for recent University graduates, as well as local makers, creatives, and engineers. The spaces—customised studios and workshops for CNC machining, laser cutting, 3D printing, microelectronic work, podcast recording, and more—were a bold concept, employing state-of-the-art machinery and computer design equipment.
UNIQUE HURDLES, UNIQUE SOLUTIONS
As is often the case when various parties are involved, the master planning phase presented several unique challenges. A major goal was to create a plan that served the existing neighbourhood at large. So, plans were made for the Plus X hub to house a new location of Café Domenica, a working café that employs local young people with disabilities and affords them the opportunity to strengthen their social and professional skills. The building was designed to be welcoming to all and to integrate locals within the wider community. With time, the hub also became a major selling point, with its promise to deliver a new wave of innovation to the area.
From an architectural perspective, the project presented a few distinct challenges. Perched just a few kilometers inland from the English Channel, Lewes Road is naturally windy at times. That meant each building needed to be carefully designed to avoid disruptive wind flow patterns. These considerations led to several rounds of testing of a physical model of the site in a wind tunnel, with the buildings being sculpted until all wind issues were mitigated. Additionally, as the City is positioned within sight of some of South Downs’ sweeping hilltops, visibility was another obstacle. In order to blend more seamlessly with the skyline—and avoid obstructing the natural surroundings—the buildings feature a unique gradient effect, with paler coloring toward the top. This approach led to truly unique design tailored to the local environment.
A BOOM TO BRIGHTON
From the start, sustainability and community wellness were at the heart of the entire Preston Barracks project. These efforts did not go unrecognised; since completion, Plus X Brighton has received a BREEAM Excellent certification, as well as a Platinum WELL Building Standard certification—making it the first commercial development in the UK to receive the honour.
Today, the entire Preston Barracks campus is buzzing with life, from the student population to the growing number of startup teams setting up shop at Plus X Brighton. A clear asset to the local community, the project has delivered an exciting revitalisation to the Lewes Road neighbourhood. Providing impactful University and student support, the project has also provided a surge of new jobs and has encouraged a meaningful boom in local business, creativity, and thought exchange—benefits that will only grow with time.