[Archive] Ferro ciomento domes and exposed brick and concrete create a striking series of spaces
First published in AR July 1966, this piece was republished online in September 2015
The third women’s college of Cambridge University was founded in 1954 and for its first ten years occupied an early nineteenth-century house in Silver Street Its new site in Huntingdon Road of 6.2 acres, including ’ The Orchard’ and part of the adjoining estate of ‘The Grove,’ was presented by the Darwin family. The layout and phasing was conditioned by the persistence of a life tenancy on part of’ The Grove’ (on the west towards the new buildings of Fitzwilliam House), by the need for access from Huntingdon Road and from Storey’s Way at this western end, and by the dependence of finance on the College’s appeal fund. Many mature trees are being retained. The college buildings, on which work started in July 1962, are intended ultimately to house 270 out of 280 undergraduates and 14 out of 30 Fellows.
Phase I, assisted by a grant from the Wolfson Foundation, was occupied in October 1964, and consists of a sunken court at the eastern end of the site, with a temporary main entrance (eventually to be service only) to Buckingham Road. On the eastern side of the court is the domed dining hall, cruciform in plan with a central servery placed at first floor level over the kitchens and reached by spiral staircases in the four corners (two for undergraduates, one for Fellows and one for service). It is designed to contain the whole College at one sitting, but to be equally convenient for small numbers to eat in the conoid-roofed side bays. Projecting forward from the hall into the court is the Junior Combination Room, planned on two levels with a gallery. South of the hall are the Senior Combination Room, Fellows’ drawing-room and Fellows’ dining-room, overlooking the semi-private Fellows’ garden. From the dining hall, doors open on to roof terraces over the JCR.
On the opposite side of the court from the hall is the library, a long room flanked alternately by book shelves and by reading bays (with 48 seats in all); above is a two-storey stack of open shelving, reached by galleries from the main staircase and roofed by a clerestory-lit tunnel vault. At court levels, the library has an additional stack, used temporarily for bed-sitting rooms and giving a total capacity of 80,000 books. The two wings leading to the hall have Fellows’ offices (some used temporarily for residence). Above the offices at ground level are cloisters, that on the south giving access to further offices and that on the north being the principal circulation spine of the college. There is a further level of circulation on the roof.
In Phase II, financed mainly by the University Grants Committee and the Nuffield Foundation, the spinal cloister has been prolonged westward, forming the fourth side of a three-storey residential courtyard housing 180 undergraduates and 25 graduates. They moved in last autumn. On the Himtingdon Road side rooms face into the court only, being double banked elsewhere. The study-bedrooms, varied in size and form, are arranged round staircases in groups of eight on each floor. The staircase wells are designed to accommodate a fork-lift truck serving all levels. The rooms on the top floor, for two people each, are on two levels, with a steep wooden stairway, and face on to a central private terrace. Fixed furniture is disposed on different walls and this has been expressed in the external elevations. The architects have advised throughout on the choice of new furniture and light fittings, and have designed all built-in joinery.
Work has already started on an extension to Phase II, consisting of squash courts, games rooms, music rooms and studio. In Phases Ill and IV the residential block will be prolonged southwards into ’ The Grove ’ site, where a President’s lodge will be built, and will then turn back, completing an S-Bhape, to the main entrance at the Fitzwilliam House end of the site. Here will be situated the third major public room, the chapel, over the porter’s lodge and a lecture room. The chapel will have a small apsidal east end seating 30 for regular services and a much larger ante-chapel seating 120, indirectly lit and suitable for use as lecture room, concert hall or art gallery. It will mark the entrance to the main spinal corridor of the college.
The structure throughout is of reinforced concrete and brick; exposed internally and externally. The bricks are Sevenoaks white facings; the concrete, which is polished for columns and rails, bush-hammered for floors and beams, or fair-faced, is composed of Ballidon limestone and white cement. Columns, handrails and cills are precast, as are the roofs to the library, dining hall and chapel. The hall’s dome units are of ferro cimento; each of the eight leaves is 45 ft. long and seven-eighths of an inch thick and weighs over five tons.
External paving is precast concrete, with blue quarry tiles in the covered ways continued into the internal circulation areas. The library and certain other rooms have cork tiled flooring and the dining hall has wood blocks. All joinery, including door frames and veneers, is of iroko.
Heating and cooking are by electricity with under-floor cables giving a background temperature, supplemented by local heaters as required.
Architect: Chamberlin, Powell and Bon
Associate-in-charge: John Honer.
Assistants: Peter. Honer and Colin Nash
Quantity surveyors: Davis, Belfield and Everest
Structural engineers: Flint and Neill
Services engineers: G. H. Buckle and Partners
Typographical consultant (appointed March 1966): Herbert Spencer.