Cranfield University, Chilver Hall
Commercial & Public Access Highly Commended 2010
Building Owner: Cranfield University
Architect: Stanton Williams
Structural Engineer: Barton Engineers
Main Contractor: Marriott Constrction
Joinery Company: Wood Newton (For Cedar Cladding), Prestoplan (For Timber Frame)
Wood Species: Red Cedar
New student accommodation transcending a challenging nine month construction period and tight budget to provide a stimulating environment whose form, materials and contextual landscaping seek to inspire.
Stanton Williams have continued their relationship with Cranfield University, providing a new phase of high quality student accommodation. Following a campus masterplan, landscape improvements and award-winning postgraduate housing, we were asked to provide accommodation for 106 students, minimising energy use while maximising efficiency and value. The masterplan aims to set a new standard for student accommodation – generating a sense of place and community through the use of high-quality materials and a contextual response to the site, a former RAF base.
The two new highly insulated four storey blocks, arranged around gardens and orchards that retain original fruit trees, are full of natural daylight and minimise energy use, using the organic texture of red cedar cladding to generate a sense of warmth and link strongly to the landscape. The building facades will turn silver with time, blending into the landscape like furniture. All rooms have full width panoramic windows with inspiring views over the surroundings. Corridors, which are often dark, stuffy, dead-end spaces, have glazed ends and openable windows. Typically, seven rooms – each with en suite shower-room, are grouped with a large kitchen – creating a sociable, communal space. Vehicle access is possible, but visual impact is diminished by using permeable parking surfaces, while walking and cycling are encouraged.
The use of a timber frame (FSC certified from sustainable sources) – unusual within a building of this scale in modern times – was essential in allowing rapid construction and significantly reduces carbon emissions compared to concrete. The frame presupposes a direct, simple expression with elevations seemingly floating above a recessed concrete plinth. The cedar cladding provides an effective contrast in appearance with the brick solidity of existing buildings on site and reconciles them with the landscape.
By ensuring the innovative design was highly modular, the structural solution, servicing and procurement were greatly simplified. This modularity was achieved at a number of levels, from the overall timber frame and buildings themselves, to room layouts and the standardisation of details. A close collaboration with sub-consultants was established to develop a structural solution that allowed the entire building frame to be fabricated off-site and delivered in short sequences as sets of panels. These were then rapidly erected on site – the frames to both buildings were completed within 8 weeks. The amount of timber usually wasted during construction was minimised through: using only one type of cedar; careful calculations to ensure the correct quantities were delivered to site; and adapting designs to match timber board lengths.
Though value and efficient construction have been important, the results provide students with an inspiring home that maximises their attractive setting.