University of Cambridge Primary School

Location: Cambridge

Client: University of Cambridge / North West Cambridge Development

Status: September 2015

Energy Rating: BREEAM  Excellent


Landscape Architects: Colour UDL

Structural Engineers: URS (now AECOM), Parmarbrook

M&E: Briggs & Forester

Quantity Surveyor: Gardiner & Theobald

Acousticians: URS (now AECOM)

Main Contractor: Willmot Dixon

Artist: Ruth Proctor, Contemporary Arts Society

Furniture: Hampshire Council Architects

Project Manager: Turner & Townsend

The University of Cambridge Primary School is the first UK primary University Training School, meaning it will provide teacher training and research as well as teaching for its 708 pupils. It is centrally placed in the North West Cambridge Development which will provide the University with a unique opportunity to establish a new University-led urban quarter. The design for the school is the result of close collaboration with representatives for the UOC Faculty of Education combined with intensive, wide-ranging research of school precedents, historical, in UK and globally.

The idea was to create a school where every voice matters; one that is democratic and can be divided into smaller communities while still being part of a united whole. This led to a circular-plan building which is non-hierarchical, and inclusive; where the classroom clusters form the unifying central courtyard where the whole school can gather and every classroom opens directly to the outside into a covered outdoor space. The size of the internal courtyard was informed by Cambridge’s historic courtyards, however it differs from traditional courtyards in that it opens up to the entrance, playground and landscape beyond. Robust clay brick has been used to compliment local development and the historic city of Cambridge.

Classrooms are organised along light filled, double-sided, shared learning streets whose higher roof allows natural ventilation via the stack effect. The articulated classrooms create a variety of flexible spaces for different types of learning activities, with group rooms allowing for individual and smaller group learning. There are no doors on the classrooms to encourage communication between teachers and ease informal observation by researchers and trainee teachers.

The communal elements of the brief; the main hall, specialist teaching areas and offices are in a rectilinear two storey element close to the principal road, creating the distinctive civic face to the building that responds to the geometry of the master plan and allows access to community. The double height hall is expressed on the outside with a 6 m high window that displays an image of the Milky Way recently taken by the neighbouring, Cambridge University’s Institute of Astronomy,

A rich, stimulating landscape design is integral to the project, with a wild wood, an orchard and vegetable plots to supply the school kitchen. Water run-off from the roof is channelled into a rill where children can play.

The requirement for 20 per cent on site renewables means that PVs cover the south-facing portion of the circular roof form as well as the roof of the two-storey hall, which has hit-and-miss bricks on its western elevation to allow fresh air intake.

We have worked with the emerging artist Ruth Chapman to develop an artwork integrated with architecture. She created a concept entitled “Under the same sky” which has involved people taking photographs from all over the world of their sky at a certain time. These will be displayed on the glazed cloister around the courtyard.

The school head teacher has praised the building, with ‘‘architecture synonymous with the educational vision’’ and for ‘‘beautiful and inspirational’’ learning environment. We worked closely with contractors to meet a challenging programme - the zero carbon school opened on time in September 2015.


2017 - RIBA East Award

2016 - Best New Large Building, Highly Commended, Cambridge Design and Construction Awards