New London Awards 2021 Winner - Cambridge House: Birkbeck, University of London
Winner in the LEARNING category
This new Learning Centre retains and repairs the car showroom which had sat on the site for the past century, not only breathing new life into the existing structure through the insertion and addition of 21st Century teaching spaces, but giving Birkbeck a prominent presence on Euston Road for the first time. The timber formed, copper clad, twisted lecture theatre precariously balanced above, both signals the building from afar and greatly expands student capacity. Whilst ground floor social learning spaces carve out views into the basement that invite the curiosity of the passer-by through ample glazed shop windows.
The design seeks to repair a well-remembered but ordinary corner building very much of its Edwardian time, making it clear where something is patched or where something is new, those new interventions speaking not only to how Birkbeck sees itself as an institution but of a quality of natural materials and detailing which harks to the craft of Soane’s Holy Trinity opposite.
By making strong visual connections from ground level within, the building remakes the corner as a place in-its-own right, immediately apparent from Great Portland Street Station and hopefully a more pleasant place to spend time as Euston Road evolves and electric transport usurps combustion engines.
The unique design of CLT and engineered timber allowed the cranage of the extension components over the course of a weekend minimising road closures along one of London’s busiest arteries.
The building was designed so as to be viable for alternative London educational institutions to utilise either on an ad hoc rental basis or if Birkbeck’s methods of learning delivery were to evolve after the pandemic. Flexible acoustic partitions allow varying arrangements of the internal spaces to allow the maximum number of students to be accommodated in line with Birkbeck’s business case.
The Cambridge House scheme minimises embodied carbon through re-use of the existing building in its entirety with the exception of the existing roof structure, the new extension is formed from a CLT and engineered timber hybrid structure, the CLT steps themselves forming the raked seating. This structure and its copper cladding are entirely recyclable. Heat recovery controlled ventilation and a 30kW solar array minimise Carbon in use.
Socially the ground floor public café and floor-connecting amphitheatre are conceived of as highly visible spaces in which Birkbeck can not only showcase its activities but invite the local community within to participate.
International Jury Quote
They took a mundane building and gave it expression. It stands out