There’s the old Cambridge of ancient university courts (never called quads, as they are at rival Oxford University), the medieval King’s College Chapel, and students languidly boating on the River Cam, but there is another side to Cambridge. Away from the tourists and film crews, expanding fast in several directions, this is a new southeast-England town in all but name. Recent districts include Eddington, a planned development in the northwest corner of the city, where there is a refined new civic structure by London-based architects MUMA, combining a theater and community meeting rooms with a daycare center.
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If Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery extension of 2015 was MUMA’s breakout project, then this community center is their first significant all-new public building. Constructed on farmland squeezed between existing suburbs and a highway, it sets out to accomplish a tricky task—provide an anchor for a place that did not previously exist.
You arrive in Eddington by its new market square, surrounded by apartments, a hotel, shops, and a supermarket, with MUMA’s building, Storey’s Field Centre (named after the field it overlooks) set on its eastern edge. Around this building is a dense new mid-rise academic precinct—developed by the university itself to provide affordable rental housing for staff and postgraduate students, condominiums, and R&D facilities for high-tech companies, a Cambridge specialty. MUMA worked within a master plan developed by AECOM but succeeded in tweaking it, to make the community center slightly taller than the other new buildings and angling it a few degrees off the planning grid. This arrangement provides for smaller public gathering spaces, both at the entrance to the center and between its nursery and a neighboring circular elementary school by Marks Barfield Architects. The calm rectilinear forms of the complex, with their textured—and in places perforated—brick, provide civic gravitas.
Since the project is two buildings in one—the center, including the multiuse theater, with one entrance, and the nursery with another—they drew on two famous typologies of the university, as MUMA partner Stuart McKnight explains: the chapel or hall, and the cloister or court (both Cambridge and Oxford universities were originally monastic foundations). Characteristically, in the old colleges, such larger buildings adjoin grass-covered or paved courts, which often have cloister-like perimeter arcades. Same here: the height of the big hall is similar to those in Cambridge’s historic center, while the ground-hugging nursery adopts the form of the cloistered court. The enclosed outdoor area, designed by Sarah Price Landscapes, includes mature gnarled fruit trees “rescued” from commercial orchards, and is both a garden and a secure kid’s playground. The building’s chosen materials are hard-wearing and well crafted: a pale cream textured brick is set off by a mid-gray fossiliferous limestone, used for the long, built-in external benches and the foyer flooring in the community center. Paneling, doors, and interior details are pale oak, while external details, such as copings and rainwater downspouts, are made of stainless steel. The daycare center sparingly uses terrazzo in its lobby rather than limestone; its material and color palette has a greater emphasis on visual and acoustic softness.
In the community center, the main event is the large hall (though hardly huge, with a capacity of 180 seated or 270 standing). This is naturally ventilated: fresh air is brought in from a labyrinthine void below the hall and exits through an attic above. Both spaces also contain acoustic insulation. The fresh-air intake is itself a piece of architecture, taking the form of a large stainless-steel “rose” set in a hollow of a courtyard garden wall.
The hall is acoustically adaptable in a low-tech way. Its natural double-cube-long reverberation time is tempered by a system of motorized blinds and curtains. The internal textured brick is designed to diffuse rather than reflect sound. Visually, the verticality of the design, with lean timber portal frames, is distinctly chapel-like—as is the slender plywood spiral stair disappearing upward from a mezzanine gallery into the roof void, where the lighting-rig mechanisms are housed. You half expect to find a belfry.
The attention to detail throughout the community center is exemplary. The aesthetic is of crisp juxtaposition of durable materials, with occasional splashes of bright color. In the nursery, the scale reduces to toddler size, but there are sensible touches such as lofty, tapering perforated acoustic ceilings with skylights. One room, projecting eastward from behind a run of classrooms, with a constellation of tiny round window lenses, is just for sleeping. Another, busier room features large primary-hued nooks, with windows that are triangular, square, or circular; through these, the small kids can look across to their bigger siblings in the adjacent elementary school. The outdoor arcade around the court links the various rooms and spaces, avoiding internal corridors.
If the inspiration is medieval English, the outcome is distinctly Scandi-modern. This is intelligent, humane architecture of a high order. If only all new town centers enjoyed this level of design attention.
44-48 Wharf Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7722 2929
Aecom – Structural and Civil Engineering
Aecom – Mechanical, Electrical, Building Physics
Turner & Townsend - Project Manager
Gardiner & Theobald - Quantity Surveyor
Sarah Price Landscapes - Landscape Consultant
Sound Space Vision - Theatre and Acoustic Consultant (Community Centre)
FMDC Ltd - Facade Engineering
Lumineer - Lighting Consultant
Aecom - Acoustics (Nursery)
Aecom - Fire Engineering Centre for Accessible Environments - Access Consultant
HNBC - BREEAM Consultant
Calfordseaden - NEC Supervisor
Faithful + Gould - CDM Consultant
Farrans Construction Ltd.
Alan Williams Photography
+44 (0) 776 970 5359
Concrete, timber frame, structural masonry and steelwork
Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: n'H International Ltd (formally Just Swiss) - Glulam structure (Community Centre)
Masonry: Brick – Weinerberger “Con Musso” brisk supplied by Taylor Maxwell
Brickwork Contractor – Anglian Brickwork
Precast concrete: Precast columns – Amber Precast
Curtain wall: Wicona Glazing (Community Centre) by Prism Architectural Ltd
Other cladding unique to project: Stainless Steel rainwater goods – TP Aspinall & Sons Ltd
Elastomeric: Felt Roofing – Bauder Roofing
Metal: VM Zinc
Tile/shingles: Cedar Shingles – Marley Eternit
Wood frame: Uniform Windows (Nursery)
Velfac Windows (Nursery)
Glass: Uniform Windows (Nursery)
Velfac Windows (Nursery)
Skylights: Wicona by Prism Architectural Ltd
Entrances: Entrance Doors – Dorma
Metal doors: Assa Abloy
Wood doors: Bespoke external doors by Borley Joinery
Special doors: Acoustic doors – CW Fields & Sons Ltd
Locksets: Aspex Ironmongery
Exit devices: Aspex Ironmongery
Pulls: Aspex Ironmongery
Security devices: Aspex Ironmongery
Other special hardware: Aspex Ironmongery
Acoustical ceilings: Knauf perforated plasterboard
Suspension grid: British Gypsum
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Borely Joinery
Paints and stains: Dulux Trade
Paneling: Timber Wall Linings – CW Fields & Sons Ltd
Plastic laminate: Kitchen Walls – Altro Whiterock –
Solid Surfacing: Corian
Floor and wall tile: Stone Flooring and seating – supplier – Haysom Stone
Stone Flooring and seating — fitter — Powell Masonry
Resilient flooring: Linoleum by Forbo Nairn
Raised flooring: Junkers Ltd
Reception Furniture: Benchmark Furniture
Fixed Seating: Borely Joinery
Downlights: Exenia Lighting
Energy management or building automation system: Briggs & Forrester
Photovoltaic system: Briggs & Forrester
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: Briggs & Forrester
Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project: Passive ventilation of Main Hall in Community CentrePassi