Cowan Court, Churchill College, Cambridge

6a architects, Cambridge, 2016


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The facade features vertical oak boards reclaimed from the floors of railway carriages 

David Grandorge     Download Original

  • The facade features vertical oak boards reclaimed from the floors of railway carriages    
  • Timber is used in a contextual way in dialogue with the existing Grade II-listed college buildings    
  • The building echoes the existing Brutalist courtyards of the college    
  • Slovenian timber was used    
  • SDC Special Projects was the external cladding supplier    
  • The glulam structure is German-made    
  • All rooms face the outer landscape    
  • The 20m² average size of the rooms is bigger than in most university residences    
  • One of the concrete stairs    
  • Location plan    
  • Floor plans    
  • Roof plan    
  • Façade construction axonometric    
  • Structural axonometric    
  • Typical section    
  • Detailed facade elevation and section    

6a architects’ Cowan Court echoes the Brutalist courtyards of the Grade II-listed Churchill College campus.

Cowan Court was designed to house 68 students in super-insulated, triple-glazed conditions (approaching Passivhaus standards), which are socially loose-knit and connective. Two concrete staircase structures, one enclosing a lift-shaft, rise near the north-east and south-west corners of the plan. On the upper floors, students debouch into enclosed cloisters, which wrap in continuous circuits around the birch-planted courtyard. All rooms face the outer landscape and all communal space faces the courtyard.

On the courtyard side, the ground-level rooms are overhung by the jettied second and third floor segment, whose oak-boarded façades contain concealed ventilation outlets. The doors of the ground-floor rooms open on to a concrete plank pathway around the courtyard, which mimics those in the original college courtyards, and also covers a services channel.

The building envelope is composed of seven irregular bands of 30mm-thick vertical oak boards reclaimed from the floors of railway carriages.

The project went through several design iterations during the eight years it took to take the building from fundraising to completion. This was partly due to rationalising the large number of room typologies, the unconventional construction in timber and having bay windows rather than balconies.


  • Begun: Mar 2015
  • Completed: Jul 2016
  • Floor area: 2,420m2
  • Sector: Education
  • Total cost: £9.2M
  • Procurement: JCT Design and Build 2011
  • Address: Storey's Way, Cambridge, CB3 0DS, United Kingdom

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