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Proctor & Matthews completes modular office in Cambridgeshire new town

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The 620m² base for Homes England features a large roof canopy manufactured out of woven willow hurdles

Proctor & Matthews was commissioned to provide a base for the government’s housing agency, to be located within Phase 2 of the new town of Northstowe, approximately six miles from Cambridge.

Combining offsite technology with onsite ‘vernacular crafts’, the purpose-built space has a hydrid appearance and includes both structured and informal work environments.

Accommodation includes dedicated workspace for permanent staff, flexible working areas for collaboration and open-plan office space with meeting rooms, breakout spaces and conference facilities. A ground-floor multipurpose space can be used for public consultation events, exhibitions and presentations.

The two-storey building is U-shaped in plan, encircling an open-sided courtyard at its centre to create a sense of enclosure and give a focal point to ongoing development. At the centre of the space is an internal glazed atrium and circulation breakout spaces.

2 northstowe, homes england office © tim crocker

Taking inspiration from the history of the site – having formerly been RAF Oakington barracks – and from the heritage of the rural Cambridgeshire Fenland location, the building features a dramatic roof canopy that has been manufactured out of woven willow hurdles set within steel frames. 

The covered area beneath provides outdoor working and socialising opportunities – a key aspiration of the government’s Healthy New Towns programme.

The building is clad in vertical black-stained timber battens creating an ‘open weave’ aesthetic and referencing local Cambridgeshire farm buildings. The terracotta-coloured steel framework supporting the roof canopy is a nod to Roman pottery shards found during initial archaeological investigations across the site. 

4 northstowe, homes england office © tim crocker

Construction began on the £2.9 million regional office in January this year and the building completed in June, making the total onsite programme only six months.

The modular, two-storey base for the south-east team of the government’s housing and regeneration agency will later be converted into community facilities for the new town’s residents.

Proctor & Matthews is also working on Northstowe phase 2 and has produced concept designs and a masterplan for an initial parcel of 400 homes to be delivered by Urban Splash. Once complete, Northstowe will be the UK’s largest new town since Milton Keynes, with 10,000 homes.

Architect’s view

In response to Homes England’s agenda for increased speed of delivery, improvement to design quality and a response to local context, this building establishes a benchmark in office design. It demonstrates how offsite prefabrication techniques can be harnessed to deliver contextually responsive architecture, forming a local marker relevant to its fenland setting.

Northstowe site plan

Site plan

The design of the building was inspired by the heritage of its rural edge-of-fenland location, on the site of the former RAF Oakington barracks, now phase 2 of the emerging Northstowe town. The focal component is the dramatic roof canopy, manufactured locally using woven willow hurdles. Traditionally deployed as fencing enclosures within the Cambridgeshire Fens, here the hurdles are set within galvanised steel frames to form a protective covering of dappled light.

The first-floor deck provides a belvedere from which to view the fenland landscape and emerging new town. Within the building a series of meeting spaces, exhibition areas, touch down spaces and open-plan offices are arranged around a central stair, double-height entrance area and service core. 

This is a modular office which avoids all preconceptions of prefabricated office environments. It is located in a rural setting (with a new town emerging around it) and despite its evolving context has already become a well-liked and well-used flexible hub for Homes England activities within the wider region.

Stephen Proctor, founding director, Proctor & Matthews

Northstowe ground floor plan

Project data

Start on site January 2019 (off-site manufacture); February 2019 (onsite works)
Completion July 2019
Gross internal floor area 320m² (ground floor), 308m² (first floor)
Form of contract or procurement route Design & Build
Architect Proctor & Matthews Architects
Client Homes England
Principal designer PFB CMS
Structural engineer Mott MacDonald
Building services engineer Mott MacDonald
Project manager Mott MacDonald
Cost consultant Mott MacDonald
Fire engineer Trenton Fire
M&E consultant AECOM
QS Mott McDonald
Planning and design consultant Tibbalds
Landscape architect Chris Blandford Associates
Project manager Attol Blue
Main contractor The McAvoy Group

Northstowe 3d

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I have to wonder how much this uninspiring Portakabin cost.
    Surely a hideous and lasting indictment against the modular housing industry.

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