Extracting the maximum from close study

James Parker found out how the new extension to the Cambridge Judge Business School provides the space for modern teaching methods by extracting the greatest potential from a challenging city centre site

Cambridge Judge Business School was founded in 1990, initially occupying the Grade II-listed former Addenbrooke’s Hospital – with its grand 1860s facade along Trumpington Street in the heart of the city. The School is unusual as a department of the university in that it chiefly provides postgraduate study, and also an ‘Executive Programme’ of short courses, which attract business executives and senior government officials from across the globe. The brief for its major expansion project had two chief drivers. Firstly, the school’s popularity meant it had outgrown its site and needed to expand. It had not been significantly extended since the John Outram-designed – and flamboyantly postmodern – extension of 1995, which added two buildings behind the 19th century edifice, plus a linking atrium called the ‘Gallery’. Secondly, with the existing buildings bursting at the seams, much of the school’s teaching was in fact located in a variety of other buildings across Cambridge. The client’s wish for staff to be able to work as collaboratively as possible on a central site was being compromised as a result. The key challenge of the brief was therefore to maximise the footprint of the existing site. The director of the business school, Christophe Loch, summed up the problem: “Cambridge Judge is a collaborative community, but we don’t currently have a shared experience of the working and learning environment.” As Gavin Henderson, director at Stanton Williams explains, the overall aim was to enhance the “exchange of ideas.” He tells ADF: “It’s about promoting interaction, and getting the benefit of having all these intellectual minds in one place. Bringing people onto one site also provides a better student experience.” New teaching methods were also a key driver – the way that students are taught is changing. Universities are increasingly focused on ‘pedagogy’, ie the teacher-pupil dynamic, and making teaching less didactic, and more discursive. As a result spaces need to be more collaborative, for example supporting ‘cabaret style’ teaching, whereby the lecturer is on the same level as the students. Group discussions are becoming the norm, rather than the traditional theatre-style format. Lastly, with the attendees to the Executive Programme being a “very diverse but high-flying group,” says Henderson, they would have high expectations for both the general ambience and the details of interior spaces. The international market for business schools is highly competitive, so the architects had to focus on high quality spaces and level of finish. This did not mean that postgraduates wouldn’t receive the same level of quality: “It was an interesting challenge for us to create facilities that were of an equally high standard – we wanted it to feel inclusive and democratic whilst catering for students who are on very different programmes.” He adds: “It’s a wide ranging set of people and courses, so the building needs to support all of them,” this aim intensified by the fact that unlike many undergraduates, students tend to spend most of their day on site at ‘the Judge’. He says the brief for the extension was detailed, but focused on the formal teaching spaces, and the architects “spent a lot of time interrogating it with the client” to unlock the true spatial needs for the Business School going forward. “We spent a lot of time with the client visiting buildings. It became evident that what made them successful were the ‘milling’ spaces – the foyer-type spaces which the brief was less focused on.” He adds: “It’s actually the social interaction that really makes the buildings work. That was key to the brief as it developed.”

Masterplan

The overall problem for the masterplan was how to squeeze the necessary accommodation on to this landlocked site – sandwiched between Trumpington Street and Tennis Court Road, a narrow but busy route separating the site from the elegant Downing College. Henderson notes that the university, when needing to expand, has tended to resort to sites on the edge of town, but that students attending the Judge wanted to be “in the heart of the historic centre.” Following winning a limited design competition, the architects faced the daunting task of adding an extra 60 per cent of space to the already densely-packed site. Henderson admits, “it wasn’t very clear where the additional 60 per cent of space was going to come from”. The practice won the Stirling Prize for another project for the University of Cambridge in 2012, the Sainsbury Laboratory, an achievement which stood them in good stead for being appointed to tackle further challenges with the client. (Stanton Williams are also working with the University on its new development in north west Cambridge.) The architects realised the majority of the new space for the extension could be provided along Tennis Court Road, although two early 20th century nursing hostels, converted to student accommodation for Anglia Ruskin University, would need to be demolished.

Form & materials

In developing the form of the new 5000 m2 extension, named the Simon Sainsbury Centre after the man whose Monument Trust provided funding towards the new building and, together with Sir Paul and Lady Judge, funded the 1990s development. The key aim was to “fully integrate it with the former hospital building”. This was partially driven by the tight site, but also an imperative to help the new teaching spaces, open circulation and meeting areas to blend with the existing accommodation. Interleaved with the 19th century former hospital building and the Outram building – the main entrance for the whole school remaining in the former hospital building – the new addition resolves a conflict. On one hand, the three key ‘layers of history’ remain expressed – in several areas architecture from three different centuries is juxtaposed – and the generous structural grid of the former hospital defines the proportions of the adjoining floors of the new extension. On the other hand, the new extension embraces the contrast between the somewhat showy Outram building and the original, more sober former hospital, and aims to create a “unified identity”. Adding to the similarity of proportion at the lower levels between the 19th century building and the new extension is a similar colour palette, mixing muted and richer colours, and considered use of materials. The 50 per cent GGBS in the building’s exposed concrete frame gives it a pleasant creamy hue. As part of the effort to create a “family of buildings,” in Henderson’s words, the new extension’s facade takes some of the rhythm of the former hospital, echoing its stone columns using precast elements. It is faced in Petersen bricks of a straw colour that fits the Cambridge vernacular, and “locks the building into its context” – lime mortar and English garden wall bond at lower levels further emulating similar structures nearby. When it came to how to address the Outram building, Henderson admits: “It is very flamboyant and we felt it was inappropriate to try and compete with that,” leading to a focus on the hospital building as the key inspiration for form and materials. “Just as Outram was reinterpreting and extending it, we saw our design as referring to the former Addenbrooke’s hospital building as the primary building on the site.” He says the new extension works “as a foil and a complement to the Outram building.” The new addition is roughly three quarters of the length of the 19th century building, running in parallel at the other edge of the site and connected at ground and first floors. These levels have been designed to have a strong continuity with both existing buildings, bringing a unity to the composition while also exploring the contrasts between the forms. The ground floor houses the rooflit reception area, plus teaching rooms including two lecture theatres, as well as study and the ‘milling’ space. This is central to the project’s character – informal breakout space such as tables and chairs in wide corridors, where students can meet up with their peers and tutors, and discuss their subject in an impromptu way. Henderson explains these are “very social foyer type spaces. People break out, continue their conversations, it’s a place of informal teaching and discussion and group learning.” The reception foyer itself is one important setting for this, nearly 5 metres high thanks to borrowing the proportions of its 19th century neighbour, rooflights connecting to its characterful brick walls and buttresses that form one side of the space. Rooflights have also been used to make the junction with the back of the Outram building, allowing users to still “experience the integrity and facades” of both buildings. The new extension has marble flooring on the ground floor like the former hospital, helping to provide textural and visual continuity for users. In terms of interiors, although the nature of the courses and the students suggested that business environments might be the key design inspiration, Henderson says that they wanted to avoid either a “corporate interior or Google-type office”, but rather create something “that had a real sense of permanence to it.” Stanton Williams’ signature use of concrete features strongly, including an abundance of flat soffits, and clean lines – the juxtaposition of marble and concrete echoing its recent work at Musée d’Arts de Nantes. “It’s a striking contrast between a quite refined material and a robust engineering material. We like the strong tactile character concrete gives.” He adds that the building has a deceptive simplicity: “The soffits are working incredibly hard to provide wide spans over ground floor teaching spaces, and give a fluid spatial quality to the foyer areas where you don’t have columns or obvious supports at interfaces with the existing building.” A feature marble and concrete staircase echoes its counterpart in the Outram building as “a public statement that allows students to ascend easily in a very visible way.” Henderson adds that, together with its generous proportions, this allows it to work as a place to meet, as much as a means of circulation. The next level is given over to social and dining space, with a large restaurant linked to a raised external courtyard offering further scope to continue discussions between the teaching sessions. Sitting above the foyer, and including trees and benches, it connects through to the existing common room in the Outram building and to the new first floor dining areas. A visual connection to the courtyard is given by the glazing to the main stair, which has vertical external metal fins with dimensions carefully calculated to reduce solar gain. Above the teaching spaces are two floors of academic offices, which don’t connect through to the original building, partly because they don’t require their generous floor-to-ceiling heights. These floors are proportioned “more appropriately for office uses,” says Henderson.

Sustainable facades

The facade also helps to emulate the former hospital’s rhythm thanks to very deep 750 mm reveals, their visual solidity partly the result of an innovative “fabric first” sustainability strategy. Says Henderson: “The rooms inside benefit from large areas of glazing, but these are not very dominant externally in what is a sensitive conservation area.” The reveals need to be that deep to incorporate localised Trox ventilation units incorporating heat exchangers, which avoid the need to run ductwork around the building. This, says Henderson, “allows us to ventilate the building sustainably without losing heat energy.” Further character is offered by joinery elements within rooms, including slots for the ventilation units. According to Henderson, the inclusion of these units in this kind of vertical configuration is unprecedented in the UK. The windows themselves can be opened in summer, and in winter the heat exchanger heats fresh air on its way in through vents. Despite the deep plan – the building is 46 metres deep adding in the hospital building – there is “always a very high level of daylighting to spaces,” says Henderson, adding “users always have views out, and the quality of light changes in quite a beautiful way across the day.”

Conclusion

This finely-crafted building opened in January this year, and since then students have been finding its open, collaborative spaces refreshing. They are drawn to the first floor courtyard as an attractive external breakout space to have coffee and continue discussions started in classes below. The sense of space and quality created despite the tough constraints of building onto a historic central location is testament to the skill of the architects in extracting both the client’s true needs, and the maximum value from its site.

PROJECT FACTFILE

  • Client: The University of Cambridge
  • Architect: Stanton Williams
  • Main contractor: SDC Builders
  • Civil engineer/structural engineer: AKT II
  • Building services engineer: Arup
  • Quantity surveyor: Gardiner & Theobald

PROJECT SUPPLIERS

  • Fair faced insitu concrete: Lafarge Tarmac
  • Petersen Tegl D78 bricks: SDC Bricklayers
  • European Oak veneer panels: Furniture Group Manufacturing
  • Rooflights (top floor): Spectrum Skylights
  • Acoustic ceiling panels: Rockfon
  • Polished plaster walls: Armourcoat