In early 2014 Níall McLaughlin Architects won a competition for the development of Jesus College’s West Court. The design entailed a masterplan for the site with works to be delivered in three phases. Phase 1 was completed in April 2017 and included the refurbishment and extension of the Grade II listed Webb Building with new café pavilion and basement bar, and the remodelling and extension of the 1970’s Rank Building fronting Jesus Lane.
The West Court project is the first of three phases. It presented a wonderful opportunity to incorporate these old buildings into a new heart for the College within its historic footprint. It was delivered in sequential parts over eighteen months, with the refurbishment of the Grade II listed building handed over first, followed by the new café pavilion and basement bar, and finally the re-modelled 1970’s Rank Building and a new entrance building.
Our designs had to respond to the variety of building stock and site conditions, and the wide range of construction types from renovation to new build. The lightweight glazed timber pergola of the café pavilion differs from the substantial brick and oak entrance building which differs again from the balconies and profiled stone walls of the re-modelled Rank Building. In terms of detailing, there was limited opportunity for repetition. Instead the various elements across the site were unified through a consistent palette of high-quality traditional materials including oak, stone, brick and quarry tiles. These were chosen to suit the historic setting. Detailing responds to existing features and local opportunities. Untreated oak glulam framing around glazing was given a chamfered profile to echo the existing stone window surrounds. We hope the two materials will weather into harmony in time. New stone walls addressing the street have a scalloped texture to give relief, reinforce the verticality of the façade and act as a deterrent for graffiti. The timber structure of the pavilion is conceived as a pergola in the landscape, held on slim cigar-shaped columns and delicate cruciform connection details.
The project involved many challenges including stringent planning constraints, a demanding programme, a constrained site and delivering a state-of-the-art lecture theatre with good acoustics in an existing building next to a busy road. The success of Phase 1 might be measured by the extent to which it has drawn this disparate collection of buildings back into the vital life of the College community whilst also providing an outward-looking public presence in the centre of Cambridge.