University of Cambridge Primary School

Marks Barfield Architects, Cambridge, 2015


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Children play on grassy mounds rather than walled playgrounds 

Morley von Sternberg     Download Original

  • Children play on grassy mounds rather than walled playgrounds    
  • The canopy structure is made up of simple mild steel circular hollow sections, T-sections and angles    
  • The idea was to create a school where the education ethos and the architecture are totally aligned    
  • Each classroom opens on to an outdoor learning space    
  • The building    
  • The entrance to the school    
  • Wienerberger Cambridge Cream brick was used on the project    
  • The school    
  • The school features open learning spaces    
  • The school aims to foster a democratic environment in which learning takes place    
  • Landscape plan    
  • Ground floor plan    
  • First floor plan    
  • Courtyard section    
  • Isometric section    
  • North, south and east elevations    
  • West elevation    
  • Masterplan    
  • Illustrative masterplan phase one    
  • Phase one lot plan    
  • Design in context    
  • Design process    
  • 3D view of cloister    
  • Brickwork colour detail    
  • Brickwork detail    
  • Canopy detail    
  • Hall louvres detail    

Marks Barfield’s new primary school is the first piece of the North West Cambridge masterplan.

The University of Cambridge is developing this 150ha ex-farmland site to provide affordable accommodation for its staff and students.

The circular plan, formed by three clusters of six classes, allows each classroom level access to a central outdoor courtyard space. There are no doors, with groups of classrooms or ‘home bases’ as they are known, open to the central ‘learning street’, which runs through the school. The learning street includes library areas, smaller group rooms, storage and toilets for each home base. This arrangement of spaces doesn’t just aid the teaching but, in a school that is also a learning and research base, it allows researchers and trainee teachers to observe what is going on without disrupting the classes.

The play spaces that surround the school are open and feature enticing wilder areas. Trees have been planted and will, in time, grow to form a woodland area, and there is also an allotment. The abundant space has also meant there was no need to build upwards, facilitating the school’s doughnut-like shape.

The glazed cloister canopy is a result of a close collaboration between Marks Barfield Architects, structural engineers Parmarbrook, steelwork subcontractor William Haley Engineering and glazing fabricator Prism Architectural. Running around the internal perimeter of the central unifying courtyard and providing cover to the primary circulation for the school, it is the site of the main school artwork by emerging artist Ruth Proctor. The cloister canopy also responds to the orientation of each classroom to ensure that the light transmission requirements of 60 per cent or more across each classroom were met and that the rooms did not overheat from solar gain. This was modelled at concept and the specification of the interlay and screen print was tested for light reduction then fine-tuned to respond to the orientation of each classroom that opens out onto it.


  • Begun: Oct 2013
  • Completed: Dec 2015
  • Floor area: 3,818m2
  • Sector: Education
  • Total cost: £9M
  • Procurement: Two-stage using SCAPE framework; NEC Option A Construction Contract
  • CO2 Emissions: 9.5kg/m2/year
  • Address: Eddington Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 0QZ, United Kingdom

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