Skip to main content

Kevin Myers of R H Partnership Architects discusses the new building project for Lucy Cavendish College

We are very excited to be working on the new building for Lucy Cavendish College, which sets a new benchmark for inclusive design and environmental sustainability as part of the College’s vision for the future. It is important that education should be accessible to all students with exceptional talent and academic potential, regardless of background or physical or learning requirements. This was one of the main drivers the President identified when describing the vision for Lucy Cavendish College when we met at the very start of the design process, combined with an aspiration for a highly sustainable near zero Carbon building project.  

It has been refreshing for us to work with the College as a client team who identified these important priorities and who have upheld them throughout the project’s development. As a result, we designed a wider masterplan for the College site on Lady Margaret Road with inclusivity, connectivity, interdisciplinarity, attainment and student wellbeing at the heart. We developed the scheme to the Passivhaus standard to significantly reduce energy use and ensure comfort for people using the buildings, using modern methods of construction and sustainable, robust materials to reduce Embodied Carbon. The project now on-site is the first step in the journey for Lucy Cavendish College to realise its vision, and we are excited to take the design forward and deliver the building with the project team and contractors.

Site model

Site model 

Many undergraduate students coming to Lucy Cavendish College will be living away from home for the first time, so the student experience has been a priority throughout. The new building will provide a welcoming, inclusive environment offering a sense of community so that students can flourish and achieve the best academic outcomes in their home away from home.  

The inclusivity agenda is yet another commitment by the College to widen access and support all those students with exceptional potential to succeed. We developed this agenda for the new build in consultation with health and welfare charity Leonard Cheshire, resulting in a masterplan design with clear, easily navigable circulation routes inside and out, with sufficient space for people with a wide range of abilities and needs to move freely. Within the building equal access is provided for all students, with accessible bedrooms - including two with adjoining carer accommodation - distributed throughout the building to integrate with the student community, rather than being isolated in one part of the building. The project is also designed with flexibility for a broad range of physical and learning abilities and will include modern data and connectivity infrastructure to support students with a variety of needs. As assistive technologies develop, the building will be ready to support the evolving needs of students, supporting the inclusive agenda for all students now and into the future.

Typical student bedroom

Typical student bedroom

The bedrooms are designed to be comfortable, welcoming, and grouped to enable students to get to know each other in manageable groups, as well as interact with each other in the new study café space at ground floor. Study kitchens/lounges of different sizes and characters will offer different levels of privacy and interaction for students, whilst the study café will include a range of facilities including study booths and smart screens enabling students to collaborate in the way that suits them best. The new study café is designed to connect inside and outside with a terrace opening to the south-facing College gardens.

New building as seen from Strathaird lawn

The new building as seen from Strathaird Lawn. 

The character of the College as a series of villas set in informal gardens has had a strong influence on our design. Making the most of the garden landscape, and to support wellbeing, it was important to provide every room with opening windows for fresh air and good views to the natural landscape outside. Rather than a standalone project, the new building is designed to link to other buildings on the site improving connectivity; a new courtyard next to Warburton Hall, the enhanced lawn outside the Library, and improvements to paths around the site will help make the whole College more accessible and enable students to make better use of outside spaces for study and socialising.  

Members of the College have been involved in the design development, including a series of workshops to discuss the landscaping, materials, layouts and use of the spaces. These discussions were very informative and helped shape the scheme; feedback about what students would like from their new bedrooms has informed the design, with a Virtual Reality tour of the proposed bedroom layout proving popular at one of the workshops held in 2019!

Virtual reality tour

Virtual Reality tour of the student bedroom 

The architecture of the existing buildings on the site also influenced our approach, setting us the challenge of designing a modern, highly sustainable, futureproof building which complements the surrounding College buildings and the character of the site in the West Cambridge Conservation Area. Our approach has been to learn from the existing buildings on site; with pitched roofs, clay plain tiles, red brickwork, and timber cladding; but to use these materials in a contemporary way which balances reduced embodied carbon with longevity and materials that can, ultimately, be recycled at the end of the building’s life. 

The structure of the building, designed by Smith and Wallwork Engineers, is primarily Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) which is an inherently sustainable approach using large panels of timber fabricated in a factory. This reduces weight and minimises Embodied Carbon and can be transported to site and assembled faster than other methods of construction, minimising disruption to the College.  

The highly insulated building reduces energy needs for heating or cooling, and large windows provide plenty of daylight in each room, making the study bedrooms comfortable spaces to use throughout the day and academic year. Working with Max Fordham we have developed an overall sustainability vision for the College which takes a holistic approach, reducing energy use, encouraging responsible use of materials, supporting biodiversity, and reducing water use. 

The project will create an exciting new building for Lucy Cavendish College setting a new benchmark for sustainability and inclusive design as part of the College’s vision for the future.  The low energy, high quality design will complement the College site and create a backdrop for improved, accessible garden spaces for students and staff, a distinct characteristic of the welcoming Lucy Cavendish College environment. We are very excited to be involved in the project and are looking forward to building work starting in earnest on-site this Summer after the all-important exam season! 

- Kevin Myers, Director, R H Partnership Architects