Well this can be a deal with. A brand new constructing that’s severe and accountable – the Keir Starmer virtues, you may say; adjectives that is perhaps synonyms for uninteresting – that can be luxurious and shocking, that takes delight within the issues that structure is fabricated from, in supplies, area, gentle and craft. Which is a contact unusual and wilful. That takes the danger of wanting bizarre and is rewarded with being lovely.
This is the new eating corridor of Homerton College, Cambridge, constructed by Barnes Construction of Suffolk and designed by Feilden Fowles – Fergus Feilden and Edmund Fowles – under-40-year-old architects with a number of completed works to their identify, specifically in historic and delicate settings equivalent to Carlisle Cathedral and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. They have typically regarded as in the event that they had been changing into an unimpeachably protected and cautious apply of a form that this nation periodically produces. This constructing, although, is daring.
Homerton, previously devoted to coaching academics, has solely been a full Cambridge school since 2010, and now provides all topics of the college’s tripos. It is actually on the unsuitable facet of the tracks, reached through a busy street bridge over the railway traces into Cambridge station. Although the faculty itself stands in nice grounds, its neighbourhood lacks the punts and willows and venerable structure for which the town is legendary.
These “perceived minuses”, says Geoff Ward, Homerton’s not too long ago retired principal, are literally “pluses”. It is close to the biomedical campus the place the likes of AstraZeneca have their headquarters, which creates the opportunity of collaboration. The school additionally has probably the most various consumption of any within the college. It provides “a Cambridge education without the Cambridge stereotypes”, was how one scholar defined its attraction. So its new £10.4m constructing has to challenge the boldness of a newly reworked establishment and cater to its rising scholar numbers, whereas embodying an open and unstuffy spirit.
The school has an older eating corridor, which is able to now be used for receptions and capabilities and suchlike, in a wannabe neo-gothic that tries too onerous to emulate the interiors of the traditional schools. It is a darkish and suffocating place, with the soul of overcooked meat and gravy. It is introverted. The new area, whereas utilizing the oblong plan and timber vault of a conventional corridor, is each gentle and full of sunshine.
Glazed openings run alongside one facet, giving beneficiant views into lush gardens. The reverse facet opens into humbler areas, a server and a kitchen past, and a casual cafe. The pitched roof of an old school corridor is inverted into an enormous extruded V of a ceiling, which rises on all sides to permit excessive bands of glazing. Where as soon as there would have been large oak beams, engineers Structure Workshop have right here devised a construction of pale X shapes, manufactured from candy chestnut coppice, with all of the skinniness that fashionable expertise permits.
The timber is held along with interlocking joints and wood pegs, with none metal bolts or plates, which brings some profit when it comes to sustainability. It can be an instance of the type of unasked-for thoughtfulness through which the constructing abounds. The wood panelling of the partitions gently corrugates to catch gentle and shadow. The ground is in shades of grey-green terrazzo in a robust sample of pointy triangles, subtly complementary to the mulberry-pink concrete that frames the openings to the backyard. The colors and shapes quietly zing off each other.
The openness and consideration of the design extends to the kitchens, light-filled and well-organised and visually linked each to surrounding areas and the skin. A giant glass wall on the cafe faces again in the direction of the gable of an older school constructing, such that it turns into the backdrop of the inside. Every component, historic or purposeful, has its dignity.
But what actually provides the constructing oomph is its exterior. Here the V-shaped ceiling is expressed as an M-shaped gable at both finish of an enormous field, solely clad in inexperienced faience. The materials is mottled and aqueous, at all times shifting with gentle and angle of view, catching shadows and bouncing reflections. Flat although it’s, it invitations you to gaze into its depths.
On the constructing’s flanks the faience is formed right into a shallow reduction of skinny vertical triangular shapes, designed to echo a small copper spire on prime of the faculty’s outdated eating corridor. These triangles lengthen into tall, vertical fins on the prime of the elevation, framing the glass panels of the corridor’s high-level home windows. The entire is positioned on a satisfyingly substantial base in that pinkish concrete, the place college students are invited to take a seat on built-in benches in its deep openings. Round the again is one thing else once more, a good-looking brick construction containing the kitchens.
For the sheer pleasure of supplies, the eating corridor is tough to beat: the play of flat and sculpted, matt and glossy, pink and inexperienced, the angular faience and rounded shadows fashioned within the concrete concavities. The approach that the superstructure stands on its low base, contrasting in nearly each respect, arguably out of proportion, is borderline awkward, nevertheless it’s all of the extra arresting for that. If you wished to quibble with the structure you may say that it’s barely treasured and un-radical, a tiny bit complacent in its Cambridge bubble, however you’d need to be in a imply temper to make a lot of that.
The design additionally does one thing to your notion. The exterior cladding makes the constructing look extra strong and opaque than it’s, the intensive glazing on the topbarely noticeable amid all of the greenish shiny stuff, with the vertical fins hiding the glass in indirect views. This makes the fragility of the inside shocking. What the Tardis does with measurement the eating corridor does with mass: it resembles an enormous glazed brick on the skin, a balsa wooden biplane inside, but these two characters one way or the other come collectively to make the identical constructing.
There is, in different phrases, paradox and inversion. What you see isn’t what you get. This high quality makes the eating corridor greater than an train in good particulars and well-chosen finishes. It engages your thoughts and senses. It makes weight and light-weight extra palpable. It invitations you to know it by transferring spherical it. By refusing to choose a single studying, by preserving you guessing as to what exactly it’s, the structure’s ambiguity inoculates it towards each grandiosity and blandness.
Architecture will get requested to hold many masses. It is predicted to be sustainable and socially virtuous, to be accessible and delicate to historic settings. Which is accurately, because it’s a public artwork, a setting for folks’s lives, however in all the priority about doing good, what might be missed is what truly makes buildings pleasurable, and what the talents and humanities of an architect can contribute.
These is perhaps summarised as doing stuff with stuff, as composing the mandatory minerals and volumes of a constructing in such a approach that you’re moved, provoked and engaged, and that the expertise of no matter it’s that goes on in and round it’s heightened. Homerton College’s eating corridor does proper and correct issues by the setting and its customers. It’s additionally an architectural pleasure.