Proudly emerging from the lawns of Homerton College, Cambridge, is a moment of 21st century glamor – an intriguing wreath of green and pink. The bold new addition by Feilden Fowles stands amidst formidable architectural figures, next to the neo-Gothic Cavendish Building and the Arts and Crafts Ibberson Building. The new room enters this visual dialogue with impressive poise, a distinctive valley roof that holds up. The design team landed on an architecture that feels both carefully considered and informed, while coming from a place of creative instinct and intuition.
Many esteemed architects, a few of whom were shortlisted by this commission, have recently made polite and well-mannered additions to Oxbridge colleges, no doubt striving for a combination of timelessness, public approval and building permits. This project goes one step further, amplifying the lively spirit of the college and adding just the right amount of radical beauty.
The building is clad in mottled green-blue ceramic tiles that mirror the tones of the surrounding greenery, though it’s hard to tell from afar what the building is made of. Somewhere between coppery verdigris and jewel-like glass, the organic variations of the subtle glazes give the building an effective translucent quality, despite its rather large mass.
Over 3,200 of these tiles undulate in tapering fluted profiles that have been informed by the adjacent Gothic Revival tower and buttresses and modeled parametrically, transitioning into a high-level clerestory. The craftsmanship and inherent material quality of the tiles was key to the proposal, with sample glazes developed with ‘earthenware’ specialist Darwen Terracotta forming part of the firm’s initial entry into the competition.
This shimmering form is seated on a dark pink pigmented concrete base, with a rhythmic grid of 3m pillars forming an open colonnade and curved niche towards the open fields of the college.
Beyond its distinctive exterior, the new addition brings many significant improvements to Cambridge’s larger university community. Although Homerton had a neo-Gothic hall of grand proportions, its serving areas were cramped and windowless, described by staff as “cooking in a hallway” as they struggled to keep up with the hundreds of meals required each day. From the start, the architects established an open and strong dialogue with the college and developed a flexible scheme which allows the former hall to be used for a much wider range of events, including formal ‘halls’ served by the new kitchens.
The hall design was born out of a desire to “reverse” the way traditional large halls are sealed and opaque at ground level, with openness and interest only above eye level. The new room establishes a porosity and a relationship with the surrounding landscape, the kitchen and the more informal “butter”. This opening also levels the hierarchy of the old facilities, creating a visual connection between the kitchens and the “high table”. The generous new kitchens are flooded with natural light, with carefully framed views for staff, including over the pot washer sink. On the upper level, the butterfly truss forms a dynamic focal point to the hall – a sleek modern response to the traditional hammer-beam roof. The wooden structure is made of laminated chestnut, made from sustainably sourced tree copses, and fixed with traditional oak dowels.
The interior material palette is restrained, consisting primarily of two tones of light and dark stained ash, with polished brass trim and handrails. The tiles are used as a subtle pattern to provide continuity, making appearances on counters and canteen floors. The effect is understated, no-frills opulence.
On the scale of the entire college site, the new building carries out important strategic gestures. Behind the new “butter”, the building also creates a “conference” entrance, allowing for greater separation of academic and commercial use of the college throughout the year. Here, the recurring 3m grid results in an understated brick façade, adding much-needed convenience and tactfully linking the new lobby to the existing low-rise context. This new reception features a 7m wide artwork specific to the site of Shezad Dawood, a landscape inspired by the college orchard created in glazed ceramics by Darwen.
The college is well known in the university for its friendly community and relaxed atmosphere. Fielden Fowles has managed to interpret and capture this ease with a building that, designed to last at least 100 years, can sustain the college’s legacy, contributing courageous architecture, which is sure to become an enduring centerpiece of the college. .
Aoi Phillips is co-founder of the Afterparti collective and architectural designer based in London.
Homerton College’s new dining hall aims to incorporate a holistic approach to sustainability. The project has taken an innovative approach by applying a set of sustainability standards that go beyond best practice. Twenty-two bespoke targets were developed specifically for the project, capable of reflecting the college’s aspirations for the building, focusing on particular elements of the building’s design, construction and operation felt to have a impact. These include:
– All-electric building with high-efficiency electric catering equipment and a geothermal heat pump that reduces CO2 emissions from heating and hot water by about 40%. The college also installed a system large enough to power other areas of campus.
– Mainly passive ventilation in high traffic areas, such as the dining room itself, which benefits from opening windows at height. In peak conditions, mechanical ventilation is used, combining heat recovery which exchanges waste heat from cooking extraction to temper incoming cool air.
– Low water consumption fittings equivalent to a 40% reduction from baseline levels using BREEAM methodology and drought resistant plantings.
– Analysis and design of the future climate in relation to the average weather scenarios of 2050 with future provisions for geothermal cooling.
– Undertake a post-occupancy evaluation process to analyze and help optimize usage performance.
– Improvement of biodiversity on site.
– A desire to use local materials whenever possible.
– Reducing lifecycle carbon through structural optimization and finding opportunities to use natural or low-carbon building products.
– Life cycle carbon analysis to reduce CO2 was used as part of the design process, and the embodied carbon is estimated to be approximately 697 kgCO2eq/m2 (modules A1-B5 and C1-C4). This is close to the RIBA 2025 Climate Challenge (v2) target of 675 kgCO2eq/m2 for schools and exceeds the 2030 target of 750 kgCO2eq/m2 for offices.
– Construction management process to recycle construction waste and reduce environmental impacts.
– Minimize the environmental and social impact of the food sold through sustainable food policy measures and make users aware of the efforts made through communication.
Hero Bennett, Sustainability Manager and Partner, Max Fordham
Creating the Homerton College Dining Hall has been an amazing journey for the many people involved. The hall’s design is symbolic of Homerton’s progressive character and bold ambitions, yet simultaneously in conversation with Cambridge’s rich architectural heritage. There are echoes of the marching buttresses of King’s College Chapel, references to the Victorian Gothic Revival of buildings at Homerton’s Cavendish College, and motifs from neighboring Arts and Crafts Building Ibberson. They combine as a marker of today’s architectural thought, an embodiment of low-tech principles, an Arts and Crafts of the 21st century. We hope this bountiful new room will welcome and nurture the Homerton community, hosting lively conversations over a meal for decades to come.
Edmund Fowles, director, Feilden Fowles
The customer’s point of view
The opening of the new dining hall at Homerton marks an important step in creating an architectural heritage that will rival that of traditional colleges. It is the first building of international significance on the site, and the first since ‘Ibberson’ of 1913-14 that will be appreciated by users and architects alike.
The task then was to create a Cambridge dining hall on a traditional large scale and with exemplary kitchens, but without compromising the intimate relationship between the basic elements of the college. And that is the challenge that Feilden Fowles rose to magnificently.
Timothy Brittain Catlin, Fellow of Homerton College and Director of Architectural Studies at Homerton and Girton
Our new dining hall is a magnificent beacon that from the outside speaks to our ambition and values, and inside provides space for our students, fellows, staff and guests to have conversations, debates, music, theater and of course, gastronomy. , all under this magical roof.
Simon Woolley, Principal, Homerton College
Start on site March 2020
Completion date March 2022
Gross interior floor area 1,665m2
Gross (internal + external) 1,869m2
Form of contract or supply route Traditional JCT standard construction contract
Construction cost (excluding rehabilitation and landscaping works) £10.4 million
Construction cost per m2 £6,246
Architect Feilden Fowles
Customer Homerton College
structural engineer Structural workshop
M&E consultant Max Fordham
Quantity Surveyor Bremner Partnership
landscape consultant SEED (concept), Hortus Collective (delivery)
Acoustic consultant Max Fordham
Project Manager Ingleton Wood Martindales
lead designer Ingleton Wood Martindales
Certified building inspector 3C Shared Services
Main contractor Barnes Building
CAD software used relive
Environmental performance data
Percentage of floor area with daylight factor > 2% 79%
Percentage of floor area with daylight factor > 4% 66%
On-site energy production 0%
Annual city water consumption 31.55m3/occupant
Waterproof at 50 Pa 4.97m3/hm2
Heating and hot water load 36.54kWh/m2/year
Overall area-weighted U-value 0.29W/m2K
design life 100 years
Embodied Carbon/Lifetime 697 kg CO2eq/m2
annual CO2 emissions 38.5 kg CO2eq/m2