The Wolfson Flats form the centrepiece of a new graduate campus

Wolfson Flats — Churchill College, Cambridge

Churchill College, Cambridge

Scott Wilson / Roger Parker Associates / Gleeds

The Wolfson Building was designed by David Roberts in 1967 as an addition to the main Churchill College campus, and forms 40 flats providing self-contained family accommodation for graduate students. This project formed a major revisiting of the building as the centrepiece of a new graduate campus – a comprehensive re-modelling of the block to address failings in the building fabric and to deliver on contemporary expectations of light and space.

The project sought to introduce a new spatial generosity to the flats – ex­tending the available space while breaking down some of the cellular divisions – and to improve the energy efficiency and comfort. A full re-engineering of the building’s thermal envelope – through the addition of highly insulated extensions, new facade linings and an upgraded roof – provided the platform for a low energy services installation. Each unit is serviced by the combination of a new whole house MVHR system, electric under-floor heat­ing, and a new shared hot water distribution system, with central plant supported by a roof mounted solar thermal array.

The building process grew from the creation of a prototype flat, used to test the approach and discuss the potential of the project with the college. The main project was undertaken in a series of phases and was completed in 2010.


Elevation to courtyard

Existing and proposed plans of the maisonette units

View from a window of the second floor flat – showing deep plywood clad internal window cills, accommodating internal wall insulation, and storage below – towards the courtyard being used for laundry and a play area

Photograph of ground floor maisonettes, showing cedar clad insulated extensions with new large aluminium framed windows, and internally insulated existing brickwork to upper floors

View into the second floor flats, showing a new laminate timber floor with electric underfloor heating, and refurbished existing doors

New kitchen in a ground floor maisonette, with view out to surrounding gardens. The kitchen can be opened up to the flat, or closed off with a sliding door and glazed partition. The worktop and kitchen cabinets are extended into the living space to provide additional storage

Photograph from the street side of a ground floor maisonette – showing new external wall insulation with render, cedar cladding and new aluminium framed double glazed windows

It would have been tempting to have demolished this mix of maisonettes and flats, built in the late 1960s under tight financial constraints, and designed in brutalist brick and concrete. Were they worth saving? The architects thought so, not least because of the embodied energy, and they took the opportunity to modify and extend the 40 homes with a holistic design approach which delivered huge increases in amenity and comfort. Energy in use has been cut by 15 per cent for the maisonettes and 40 per cent in the flats. A solar system provides more than 40 per cent of hot water used. Carbon emissions have reduced considerably, thanks to external insulated cladding, new central heating, and upgraded glazing and sound insulation. The college now has units of which it is proud, rather than embarrassed.

Judge's Citation

40 self-contained flats provide accommodation for graduate students and their families

Isonometric drawing of the flats, illustrating the key insertions to staircases and communal room, including a new window to the common room, opening up the staircase to the South, and a new more open and generous staircase to the North

Rendered elevations illustrating the palette of materials – including the existing brickwork, cedar boarding, aluminium framed windows and, render on insulation. Top: Court elevation. Middle: ‘Street’ elevation. Bottom: New opening in brickwork wall to staircase

Rendered view showing new opening in brickwork wall to staircase and rendered ‘street’ elevations

Photograph from before the refurbishment showing the defensive brutalist character of the brickwork, and the stop end to the pavement formed by the staircase wall (opened up during the refurbishment)

Photograph of the completed scheme, showing improvements to the street scape, insulated and rendered elevation with new aluminium windows and cedar board detail wit bike racks

Photograph from before the refurbishment showing upper level walkway to self-contained single storey flats

Photograph from after the refurbishment showing removal of the brick balustrade, and installation of stainless steel mesh balustrade under a hardwood handrail, and insulated cedar cladding with new aluminium framed windows

The building process grew from the creation of a prototype flat, used to test the approach and discuss the potential of the project with the college. The main project was undertaken in a series of phases and was completed in 2010.


  • 2011 / Architects’ Journal Refurb, Rethink and Retrofit ‘Best Lower Carbon Building’ and ‘Large Housing’ Awards / Winner


Photography by Tim Soar


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