Feilden Clegg Bradley with Maccreanor Lavington
and Alison Brooks
Countryside Properties plc
Kajima Construction Europe (UK) Ltd
Cambridge City Council
Click any image for a larger view
Cambridge's last large city centre residential site came forward through a 1990s PFI to replace shabby government buildings with new ones. The deal required a land value to be established there and then and Cambridge City Council gave outline approval for 382 homes with a gentleman's agreement that the scheme would be greatly improved before reserved matters. Direction from the local authority's Peter Studdert and case officer Peter Carter about the expected improvements extended to pre-planning meetings attended by an elected member.
The developer, a joint venture between Countyside Properties and a US pension fund, chose to surpass expectations by appointing Feilden Clegg Bradley to produced both planning and construction drawings. The architects in turn surprised the client by introducing, managing and paying two other consultants out of their fees for the sake of variety. So in the completed phase one market sale Alison Brooks has designed four semi-detached villas on the Brooklands Avenue frontage and Maccreanor Lavington a long row of four-storey terraces.
The trio of consultants obtained reserved matters for 379 homes in total in 2003 and 73 homes for market sale were completed in phase one. The same phase includes 100 affordable units built for Wherry Housing Association, part of Circle Anglia which appointed its own architect to modify the planning drawings. These are also impressive to the point that the Housing Corporation paid for some to have garages on the grounds their design quality would otherwise be diminished (image 6). But the detailing is not as sweetly executed as in the market sale units. Some areas also feel isolated to the back of the site but the sense of disconnection will be greatly reduced when phase two fills in the masterplan's gaps and encloses them with 178 more homes for market sale and 13 affordable.
On Feilden Clegg Bradley's recommendation, Countryside also appointed Grant Associates to landscape 3.5 hectares from the 9 hectare site. Clever use of the existing planting is key to the masterplan with one four-storey terrace wholly screened by large mature trees from the access road, while the backs of courtyard houses bleed into large lawns. Even new planting impresses with a 40 m line of pleached mature pear trees offering a privacy barrier to the backs of courtyard houses from a communal area which features green oak seats and tables. If you remove special ecological areas such as along Hobson's Brook to the west of the site from calculations, the density is 65 homes to the hectare. Reinstate these amenity spaces and it is still 47 homes to the hectare. The density had faced lobbying from the local residents group as "overdevelopment" but phase one impresses most for the generosity of public and private spaces. This is felt most keenly in a pair of designs by Maccreanor Lavington and Feilden Clegg Bradley.
In the first,, four-storey townhouses begin with a small terrace on the facing elevation leading from the kitchen and a private ground floor courtyard and the dwelling continues to the back of the plot with garages accessed from a mews. (Step into the garage and you find a large sink for dirty boots and dogs.) At first floor to the rear of the house there is a second courtyard partly over the garage and screened from the mews by an annexe over the rest of the garage. At second and third storey the house reverts to a conventional depth but incorporates four good-sized double bedrooms and two bathrooms and the top floor has a very private outdoor space cornered between bathroom and bedroom. There is also a variant where the annex over garage is replaced with a large private terrace running the full depth of the plot and the ground floor uses a light well for daylighting.
In the second design by Feilden Clegg Bradley, a five-storey apartment block faces onto Hobson's Brook. Huge balconies hang to the west and north of the block like tree houses supported by a green oak frame. These serve large 3-bed duplex apartments on the top two storeys, the northernmost of which has a terrace that wraps its entire living room along two façades.
Both townhouses and flats are large family-sized homes. The developer has run a local billboard advertising campaign mocking assumptions that city centre homes mean cramped flats and that modern architecture cannot be family friendly. Sadly that may be true of other schemes which trash space standards and amenity in the headlong pursuit of a land value. But this is a triumph of family life in a city.