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Can we create high-performing, flexible spaces without any compromise to sustainability?

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Downing College Student Centre

Project Details

Client: Downing College Cambridge 

Architect: Caruso St John 

Status: Planning permission granted


Structural design in brief

New four-storey building over basement, ground and two upper levels

Sustainable design 

Innovative timber solutions 

We love a challenging brief, and this project gave us just that! The challenge set was to deliver a flexible building that could deliver a dynamic program of functions, varying throughout the year; to give a genuine 120-year design life and to do so in the most sustainable way possible. With performance and event spaces interwoven with quiet spaces for study and prayer, the structure had to perform to high acoustic and dynamic criteria.

Working through the construction and surrounding buildings logistics at the concept stage enabled us to develop an open cut excavation design, significantly reducing the embodied carbon required to deliver the basement box. Utilising an engineered timber solution to create clean span spaces to maximise future flexibility we also identified a cement free screed solution which still delivers the high acoustic, fire and dynamic structural requirements. The development will deliver a fully sustainable drainage solutions, with no surface water leaving the site. Originally conceived as a load bearing stone structure we studied the detail early, by identifying the dew point and developing the stainless-steel bracketry details that would be required we could fully evaluate the embodied carbon requirements of load bearing stone and load bearing engineered timber, proving that in this case timber had the lower impact. A pleasure to deliver a design where true sustainability was a project driver.

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