University Key Worker Housing, University of Cambridge, UK

The North West Cambridge Development (NWCD) transforms the 150-hectare site of the University of Cambridge farmland into a community with residential buildings, academic facilities, public amenities, and open green space. Mecanoo worked alongside NWCD to deliver 232 affordable housing units for researchers and key university employees.

Programme: 232 dwellings for researchers and key university employees (19,500 m2), parking (3,120 m2), and public realm (5,126 m2)
Design: 2012-2014
Realization: 2014-2018
Client: North West Cambridge Development, University of Cambridge, UK
Project management: Aecom, London, UK
Structural, Mechanical and Electrical engineer: URS, London, UK
Acoustic, Building physics  and Fire safety  consultant: URS, London, UK
Cost consultant: Gardiner &Theobald, London, UK

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New layer

Cambridge is a city contextualized through the layering of architectural inventions over the centuries. This has resulted in a unique composition of urban space, architecture, and landscape. Mecanoo’s design adds a new layer to this, building upon the rich traditions and collegiate character of Cambridge.


To create a strong sense of community the relationship between the public and private realm has been carefully reconsidered. The characteristic Cambridge variation of enclosed and open spaces, alternating between formal and informal groupings of buildings, is a departure point for the design that activates the courtyards and creates different connections between the dwellings and the communal area.

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The two internal courtyards with lawn, flower fields, raised decks, planters, fruit trees, and urban furniture are sheltered by galleries forming covered outside community spaces. Apartments are grouped around spacious central halls flooded with daylight, all leading to the courtyards.

Communal identity

The central building is the visual and communal focal point of the development and acts as a spine to the site. Covered exterior space in the heart of the development forms a modern interpretation of the Cambridge colonnades and arcades. Locating the community facilities along the public route through the block facilitates the development of a communal identity, whilst reaffirming that sense of being part of a much larger academic collective.

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The design complies with Code For sustainable Homes Level 5. This was achieved by creating compact, efficient volumes with high-performance Fabric Energy Efficiency, good internal daylight performance, bespoke assisted natural ventilation for night-time cooling, the large array of PV cells on the roofs, district heating, a site-wide rainwater attenuation strategy including a greywater system and collective gardens that increase the biodiversity.


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