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St Chad's Development, St Catharine's College, Cambridge

At St Catharine's College, Cambridge, James Cubitt & Partners was invited to extend a building which it had designed in the late 1970s. St Chad's development lies in the grounds of the Grade II-listed Victoria House which dates from the turn of the century. The original design - a response to the planners' insistence on preserving the mature Mediterranean pines on the site - comprises stacks of octagonal study-bedrooms forming 28 three- and four-storey octagonal towers, linked in a configuration which complements the landscape and avoids the trees.

Although in theory the format lends itself to expansion, the college worried about the impact of more towers on the open aspect in front of Victoria House. The solution was to build upwards rather than outwards. The college had originally planned to build just eight new rooms, but the conservation officer and architect agreed that building across all existing towers would provide the most aesthetically pleasing results. In the event, all towers have been given either one or, in a couple of cases, two additional storeys, and one entirely new tower has been built. The total project cost was £1 million.

Rooms in the original building open onto external walkways, but the architect felt that an additional walkway would cast too much of a shadow on to the original building. Instead, kitchens on the existing top storey have been pushed into the corridor and made a little smaller to make room for an internal stair to the floor above. The original building has a concrete structure, but timber was chosen for the extension, mainly because of the complexity of the project - although each new room is octagon-shaped, almost every one is slightly different - with a copper cladding. 'Our first reaction was just to carry on in brick,' says Plocki, 'but we felt we had an opportunity to really finish the building. Now it has a hat, and that's the end of it'.Credits, page 44

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