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FIRST LOOK

Robin Lee Architecture designs 10 utility buildings for North West Cambridge

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The collection of ‘quiet landmarks’ has been unified through form, materiality and architectural expression

The University of Cambridge commissioned Robin Lee Architecture in 2015 to design a series of structures for Eddington, Cambridge. The brief asked for 10 utility buildings that would celebrate and complement the North West Cambridge masterplan.

Dotted around the extensive site of the new civic neighbourhood, the structures are unified through an aesthetic of pristine materiality and simple form. The buildings are mainly for ancillary purposes -– including electrical transformer substations and pumping stations (requiring only a watertight enclosure with some ventilation) – with an additional two sports pavilions. The pavilions retain the same aesthetic as the rest of the structures, with no windows and only rooflights to allow light into the space.

07 cricket pavilion

Architecturally, the forms of the buildings are divided into two categories – mono-pitch roofs for the electrical substations and flat roofs for the pavilion and canopy structures – reducing the formal geometries down to rectangular versus triangular.

Robin Lee Architecture also used open mesh brickwork for ventilation openings to add additional texture to otherwise flat elevations. 

Rla ub site plan

Architect’s view

The University of Cambridge’s commission was for a collection of infrastructure buildings and structures to serve Eddington, on the periphery of Cambridge. The brief required 10 structures that would celebrate and give expression to the essential infrastructure serving the masterplan.

We developed a strategy for a unified collection of structures that through form, materials and expression, would create a coherent family of buildings. Cumulatively, they create a series of ‘quiet landmarks’ that contribute to site-wide legibility. Through refined expression they introduce a dignified civic quality to what are essentially simple and humble functions.

Flush pointed pale handmade bricks and white precast concrete structural columns and beams give primary expression to the buildings, with supplementary elements detailed in corrugated sheet steel for roofing, metal doors and louvres. Open bonded brickwork allows for natural ventilation in addition to bat roosting to meet ecological criteria.

Two pavilions provide changing facilities for the activities that take place on adjacent cricket and sports pitches, and provide internal spaces for congregating and external shelter. The form of each pavilion creates a strong sculptural presence within flat, expansive landscapes. Deep, cantilevered concrete canopies create a robust and elemental building identity while offering shelter and shade.

Two pumping stations were also delivered – for potable and non-potable water. The potable water pumping station has a steeply pitched roof in steel supported on a tectonic frame of precast concrete. The non-potable water booster station is situated at the western edge of the masterplan and is composed of a tall framework of precast columns with panels of brick, louvres and steel doors positioned to facilitate cross ventilation, enclosure and access, giving a calm order to the collection of pumping and water treatment equipment within.

Freestanding substations and a foul water pumping facility were also delivered, all with a consistent architectural expression.

Robin Lee, director, Robin Lee Architecture

Rla ub unfolded plan 1

Project data 

Start on site September 2015
Completion September 2018
Gross internal floor area Not applicable
Form of contract or procurement route Design & Build
Construction cost Confidential 
Architect Robin Lee Architecture
Client University of Cambridge
Structural engineer Arcadis
M&E consultant Hulley & Kirkwood
QS Gardiner & Theobald
Masterplanning AECOM
Landscape consultant LDA
Project manager Turner & Townsend
Main contractor Skanska
CAD software used AutoCAD

20181205 robinleearchitecture northwestcambridge model ©ståle eriksen 01

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