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aLL Design unveils plans for Cambridge digs on stilts

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aLL Design’s plans to build student flats over a community centre in Cambridge have gone out for consultation

The building would sit on stilts 6.5m above the ground and feature a ‘nest-like’ façade with terracotta detailing – signature motifs of late aLL Design co-founder Will Alsop.  

The developent would partially cover the existing St Matthew’s Centre and its car park to the east of Cambridge’s city centre.

The design contains 14 ‘cluster flats’, which would accommodate 114 students in study bedrooms around shared kitchens. The building would also have a café with outdoor seating facing onto St Matthew’s Piece park.

The building reaches a maximum height of 19.7m and has been designed to hide behind the treeline along its boundary on Sturton Street and York Street.

Developer Federated Hermes said that the building could be operated by either a Cambridge college or a private provider.

It cited a report by Cambridge City Council, which said 8,959 purpose-built student rooms needed to be built by 2026 to meet future demand.

Federated Hermes said it hoped to start construction in 2021 for completion the following year.

Architect’s view 

St Mathew’s Centre fits in to our Knock Nothing Down (KND) ethos showcased in an exhibition last year at the Royal Academy. The main principal of KND is to keep as much of existing buildings and places intact, as they have history, memories and communities which help to keep the familiarity and soul of a place we all find important and is missing in many new developments. This approach is inherently sustainable, as we reuse as much as possible and minimise demolition waste.

It was therefore important for us to keep the existing building on site. The park to the back of the site is popular, with a playground for local residents, but access from New Street is not optimal. Neighbours opposite the entrance of the site have views over the park and we wanted to preserve these. Our original concept was to lift up the building using timber thinning columns designed by Atelier One as the main structure for the legs, retaining the existing building and views and enhancing the route into the park.

This scheme fits in to our Knock Nothing Down ethos

A new café is proposed in an unused space in the existing building opening out to face St Matthew’s Piece, where a blank façade currently exists. The main body of the building is within the existing tree canopy, floating like a nest. Our original design included timber ‘twigs’ on the façade to replicate branches and create a ‘fog’ within the façade. But, due to the changes in the Building Regs we changed these to terracotta battens. The building structure is CLT and will be manufactured offsite to minimise disruption to the existing building. It has been designed to achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating.

The final design provides a sustainable solution, which maintains views and enhances access to the park, gives New Street a positive frontage, provides student accommodation that floats above the ground while blending into the dense tree canopy to minimises the impact of the new building.

Marcos Rosello is a director and co-founder of aLL Design 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The 'knock nothing down' ethos is surely admirable - however challenging for the architects, who stand in marked contrast to those of the profession who are even prepared to destroy their own quite recent work.

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