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.

The Wolfson Flats form the centrepiece of a new graduate campus

Elevation to the shared courtyard

Existing and refurbished plans of the maisonette units

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.

Judges citation

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


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

Wolfson Flats, Churchill College — Cambridge

Photography by Tim Soar



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