Storey’s Field Community Centre and Nursery

Introduction

Storey’s Field Community Centre and Nursery is a building of rare quality; shortlisted for The Stirling Prize and cited, in its RIBA Award, as demonstrating ‘how an architect can add joy, an enhanced experience of materials and human dimension to every part of a building’.

It sits at the heart of the new village of Eddington, in north-west Cambridge, part of the university’s new town and only recently populated with new residents – Cambridge post-grads and key workers, together with their families.

The architect, MUMA, was deeply involved in the briefing process from the start, which evolved into two requirements: a community hall large enough to seat 180 people, to act as a civic centre and a place for weddings, concert performances, local groups and parties, plus a nursery for 100 children.

The architect has integrated the two together in a plan similar to a Cambridge college; the vertical volume of the hall – like a college dining hall – forms one side of an expansive courtyard which is enclosed on the other three sides by the single-storey nursery, together with staff offices and public toilets.

The courtyard is a children’s play space and a sheltered cloister runs along its edges. The three nursery classrooms open directly onto the courtyard so that children can play freely outside in privacy and safety. The three classrooms have lofty inclined ceilings, expressed externally by three pitched turret roofs clad with cedar shingles. All the public spaces are adaptable; for instance, the walled garden next to the main hall can be part of a wedding celebration but can also be used for quiet reading for nursery pupils.

The main hall, ten metres high, acts as the focal point to the new village centre and its main entrance is set back to create a communal gathering space, with stone benches inset into the walls for locals to sit and chat. The external walls are buff-coloured brick to match the requirements of the masterplan, but profiled with projecting bands of header and stretcher courses to create depth and shadow.

The building has been designed as an exemplar of sustainability and timber has been used throughout the building, both inside and outside, to achieve this. Within the main hall, the use of timber has also been key to creating a warm and welcoming environment with a high quality of acoustic performance.

The use of timber in the main hall

The generous volume of the main hall, inspired by the dining halls and chapels of Cambridge colleges, is large enough to accommodate a wide range of activities and acoustic performances, from chamber music to film screenings. Timber is used to create a unique sense of place, with oak, ash and spruce establishing layers of soft, warm tones appropriate for a dignified community gathering space. Each layer of timber is designed to modulate the scale of the hall, and the tones of the material are progressively lightened as they rise to upper levels. The choice of timber was also vital to achieve the quality of acoustic within the space.

The lower parts of the north and south walls are lined with carved solid oak ‘linenfold’ panels, providing a surface of varying depths to scatter sound waves and so enhance the quality of sound. Within them are sets of bespoke concealed acoustic doors.

Above the panels a series of slender spruce glulam portal frame columns emerge, which rise in front of a backdrop of ash-veneered wall panels and, higher up, a glazed clerestory. The glulam frames stand proud of the glazed clerestory to create a zone where acoustic banners have been installed; they can be raised or lowered to provide different acoustic qualities to suit different performances. The glulam frames are spaced at irregular intervals, within a range of 600mm, 900mm and 1200 metre centres, to break up sound reflection and create a warm, smooth sound.

The west wall has an open mezzanine, clad with timber, and the brick wall above is profiled with projecting brick courses, creating a surface of depth and shadow which helps to soften the acoustic. The east wall is fully glazed at low level with sliding glazed doors which open on to a garden. The upper level is of profiled brickwork to match the west wall.

The ceiling is a lattice of solid ash joists on battens which conceals air extract routes for the hall’s passive ventilation strategy. Above it is a series of deep timber trusses which act as an acoustic attenuation zone, controlling noise break-in and break-out.

During the day, natural light floods through the clerestory and glazed openings, while at night, lit from within, the hall acts like a lantern to the new village.

The timber structure

The main hall structure is a series of remarkably slender glulam portal frames, 500mm wide but only 80mm thick, yet with columns which reach 7.5 metres in height and beams which span more than 10 metres. To achieve such slenderness, the Swiss manufacturer Neue Holzbau selected spruce lamellas which were of the highest quality of strength class, as well as the highest visual grade (the frames are finished with a white translucent stain).

The portal frames support paired edge beams, each 450 x 200mm, which in turn support the roof structure, a set of deep glulam trusses, spaced at irregular intervals to achieve the necessary openings for the acoustics and ventilation strategies. Four large 480 x 240mm glulam columns stand at the corners of the structure to reduce horizontal deflection.

The glulam portal frame beam and columns are connected by concealed joints using GSA®-Technology, a proprietary connection system developed by Neue Holzbau. The system uses threaded rods glued to the timber and secured with epoxy resin, resulting in a concealed, protected and fire-proofed connection. Neue Holzbau designed, supplied, delivered and installed the timber structure.

The spiral staircase

A timber spiral staircase rises more than eight metres from the mezzanine to give access to the plant on the roof. It has a diameter of 1580mm and the treads are constructed of steel plate overlaid with ash veneer. The balustrade is of 25mm thick ash veneered plywood with a solid ash handrail. At the base of the staircase is a stair gate in ash veneer with concealed hinges and lock.

Sustainability

The project is part of the North West Cambridge Development commissioned by the University of Cambridge. The university undertook to make the development an exemplar of sustainability. As part of that brief all projects in the development had strict criteria to uphold, including sustainably sourced products. In addition, the project was to achieve BREEAM Excellent. The project has surpassed this goal and has achieved BREEAM Outstanding for the Community Centre and Excellent for the Nursery with the extensive use of timber contributing to the result. All the timber used is PEFC and FSC certified.

The volume of the hall allowed a passive ventilation strategy to be incorporated using a stack effect. Fresh air is drawn through a labyrinth below the floor and extracted at high level through openings in the timber ceiling.

Awards

2018 Wood Awards, Mears Group Gold Award, Winner

2018 Wood Awards, Commercial & Leisure, Winner

2018 Stirling Prize, Shortlist

2018 RIBA National Award, Winner

2018 RIBA Sustainability Award, Winner

2018 Building of the Year, RIBA East, Winner

2018 AJ Architecture Awards, Finalist

Completion date:

January 2018

Building type:

Community centre and nursery

Location:

Cambridge

Client:

University of Cambridge

Architect:

MUMA

Structural, civil and services engineer:

AECOM

Main contractor:

Farrans Construction Ltd

Structural timber design, supply and installation:

Neue Holzbau, Switzerland

Joinery:

C W Fields, Yorkshire

Timber supplier:

Brooks Bros (solid oak), D F Richards (oak and ash veneers), James Latham

Timber elements:

main hall structure, internal wall and ceiling panels, pitched roof, cloister soffits

Timber species:

Swiss spruce, European oak, American white ash, western red cedar

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