The Wave, University of Sheffield

Under one roof  

One of the UK’s leading Universities has brought together all its social sciences research and teaching activities, in a stunning new building with exceptional green credentials. 


Project details

  • Customer: University of Sheffield
  • Architects: HLM Architects
  • Project value: £65 million
  • Project completed: Spring 2023

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16,500m2 Fact icon across four floors
BREEAM Fact icon Outstanding rating
500 Fact icon Study places

These days, universities need to offer world-class facilities to attract the best students. As one of the world’s top 100 higher education institutions, the University of Sheffield is no exception. 

The University’s striking new Social Sciences hub – known as The Wave – reflects the growing move towards centralised teaching spaces. Bringing all social sciences teaching and research activities into a single building helps to encourage collaborative working and makes better use of valuable space.

Despite some significant challenges with the building’s foundations early in the project, BAM has delivered a spectacular new faculty, which sits sympathetically in its landscape and offers students, staff and academics a calm, highly functional space to learn and work.

The new Social Sciences building is designed to grow with the Faculty and enhance its world-class reputation for teaching and research excellence. It is home to the Faculty office, as well the University’s sociological studies, politics and economics activities. 

The School of Education, the Information School, the Social Research Institute and the Sheffield Methods Institute have all been brought together under a single roof. And there is also room in the building for the successful Management School to expand, in response to predicted future growth.

The shape of The Wave 

Local Sheffield architects HLM were responsible for the design. Its sinuous curves hint at the site’s former life as a reservoir. 

A series of overlapping floor plates ebb and flow throughout the building, creating organic shapes, while the main façade consists of staggered glass planes that “reflect the world around and the multifaceted nature of the social sciences”. 

Promoting sustainability

Ground-source heat pumps make optimum use of thermal warmth from the rocks below and help keep the building cool during the summer.

Students and staff alike are being actively encouraged to walk or cycle to the building: which has 200 cycle spaces with secure storage and changing facilities.

Also addressing the challenges of climate change, the planting around the new building is designed to be resilient and to help foster a healthy environment. Newly created green areas featuring numerous trees and ‘urban rain gardens’, accessible to students, staff and the public. 

The sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS) for the site is designed to manage surface water run-off close to where it falls, mimicking natural drainage. 

Landmark trees are dotted around the gardens, many of them strategically placed to bring seasonal colour and interest. Dry-stone walls bring in a traditional element to the public realm, which continues visual themes established throughout the outdoors areas of the University campus.

The landscaping also contributes positively to biodiversity in the immediate area.

Living spaces

Inside, a series of social spaces including café areas are designed to encourage students to use the building throughout the day. 

The interior is light and spacious, with a spectacular glass roof and open atrium at its heart. As well as creating a dynamic social space, the atrium is one of the key passive features in the building, making an important contribution to heating and cooling.

In March 2023, the completion of The Wave was marked with the burial of a time capsule, containing memorabilia from the different departments based in the building, including photographs, research material and newspapers. The plan is to dig up the capsule in 2053!

“This building will be absolutely transformational for our University. As a home for our Faculty of Social Sciences, it will improve learning for our students through its new collaborative teaching and social spaces, and offers a wide range of social sciences disciplines under the same roof for the first time.”

Professor Gill Valentine

Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Sheffield