Cambridge School of Architecture

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Cambridge School of Architecture

This building provides a new undergraduate studio and workshop for one of Britain’s best schools of architecture. The building is connected to the listed Georgian terrace, adjacent to the seminal 1950’s extension designed by Colin St John Wilson, and close to existing protected trees. The building expresses the Department’s commitment to sustainable design; it is constructed entirely from timber, insulated with hemp, and cooled using innovative radiant ceiling panels with a system that exchanges heat with the ground.

The new studio building forms part of a £3 million refurbishment and expansion of the Department of Architecture, responding to a brief uniting teaching and research functions. The Georgian Terrace has been refurbished by Freeland Rees Roberts Architects, creating offices for the Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies. The new studio building sits to the rear of the terrace adjacent to Colin St John Wilson’s seminal 1950’s extension. The Client, Head of Department Marcial Echenique, required a single teaching space clear of columns to house the undergraduate design studio and a building made of timber that retained the existing on-site car parking. A contemporary version of Victorian warehouse buildings was pictured, with cast iron replaced by timber and simply designed details.

Space for the new building was limited; planning constraints meant that existing listed trees needed to be preserved and sufficient space given to the rear of the listed Georgian terrace to preserve its integrity. The placement of the building responds to these constraints. It creates a central cloistered garden space between the new building and the existing extension, providing a physical link between the group of buildings that make up the School of Architecture. The garden is enclosed by the existing historic garden wall to the rear, and a new brick wall on the line of the original one to the south, separating the car park beyond.

The form of the new building is determined by its function, and a desire to build a naturally cooled timber-frame building that embodies the Department’s commitment to sustainable design. North lights in the saw-tooth roof provide even natural light without solar gain and an innovative cooling strategy has been adopted, comprising good cross-ventilation, high-level windows and an innovative water-based radiant cooling system in the ceiling. 

The building comprises a workshop of solid construction at ground level, and a large single studio space built from a timber and glulam structure at first floor. Larger than the ground floor, the studio is built over the existing car park and entry is via two bridges connected to the terrace rear and the Sandy Wilson extension These allow access from the main Department entrance and lecture rooms respectively.

The expressed structural timber frame gives rhythm to the elevations, clad externally in cement fibre panels, a large-scale version of weatherboarding, recessed between the timber columns. Inside, structural principles are made apparent in the timber trusses; the top chord gets slimmer towards the supports, and the struts reduce in size as the forces reduce. A lesson in design: the new studio embodies contemporary structural and sustainable construction methods while creating a light-filled space for studying and making architecture.


8 photos and 1 drawing

Building Activity

  • Nadezhda Nikolova
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