Drawing on the Arts and Crafts tradition, the building celebrates the integrity and inherent beauty of materials and craftsmanship
Words by Lauren Teague
The colleges of Cambridge have a long-standing tradition of formal dinners, held in dedicated dining halls, which encourage students and staff to congregate for meals.
At Homerton College – the youngest of Cambridge’s colleges – architecture practice Feilden Fowles has created a new statement hall to the northwest of the 10-hectare estate that sits as a contemporary jewel within the wider collection of 1870s buildings that have been used by the college since 1894.
The new hall, with a capacity for 336 people, is designed to bring new catering and dining facilities to accommodate the college’s growing numbers.
Beyond the main dining space, meeting rooms and a buttery create additional café, social and study spaces. A range of courtyards and cloisters line the perimeter where the new building meets the existing architecture of the Grade II-listed Ibberson Building and the wider college grounds.
Externally, the structure is distinctive. At ground level, a plinth of pigmented concrete forms the base. Slightly pink in colour, it acts as a contemporary colonnade that complements the red brick of the neighbouring existing buildings.
Above, a dramatic roof clad in 3,200 green ceramic tiles sits like a crown. Crafted by Darwen Terracotta – one of the UK’s few remaining architectural ceramic fabricators – the undulating tiles was inspired by the mature trees to the south of the dining hall and the copper verdigris of the spire on the College’s existing Great Hall.
If the outside brings the drama, then the interior is balanced with classic tranquillity. The timber construction creates a lofty, light and airy space.
Fabricated off-site from sweet chestnut glulam, the structure uses traditional handcrafted carpentry joints, fastened with oak dowels, celebrating the artistry and authenticity of the natural material.
As its most striking architectural feature, the roof massing went through various iterations before the architectural team established the ‘valley’ form of the inverted pitched roof.
Eleanor Hedley, Associate at Feilden Fowles, explains how the form took shape in bringing high-level natural light into the space and while sitting comfortably within the existing college masterplan. ‘It presents a more animated façade to the rest of the grounds,’ she adds.
‘Internally, it also creates a cross-shaped truss structure – a more modern take on the hammer beam roofs of traditional college dining halls – and allows light entry through the clerestory glazing which, as it is south facing, creates dramatic and ever-changing light and shadow within the hall throughout the day.’
As well as creating a stunning space, the use of structural timber contributes to the building’s sustainability targets. Consultants at engineering firm Max Fordham created a bespoke sustainability matrix of 22 bespoke targets for the project, ultimately embedding a holistic approach to sustainability in both construction and operation.
The plinth uses 50% GGBS cement replacement – a green material that replaces cement with by-products from the blast furnaces that manufacture iron.
Furthermore, the building is all-electric in operation, passively ventilated and uses a ground source heat pump that reduces CO2 emissions from heating and hot water by approximately 40%.
Photography by David Grandorge
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