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Science Cities workshop at Cambridge

Image: Fred Pilbrow with model of the Hills Road Cambridge site with one of the forum workshop teams

We were very pleased that the Founding Partner of Pilbrow and Partners, Fred Pilbrow led our recent 'Science Cities' forum workshop, setting a real site brief on Hills Road close to the centre of the city on land owned by Cambridge University.

Fred explained:

'The 1.1 hectare site we are looking at is at the entrance to the city core, and is at a pivotal location on Hills Road. The conversation we have just had about 15 minute walkable cities, science cities and sustainable development is very relevant to this site which is eminently well-connected and at the heart of the action. What I want to do is draw on your insights into what should happen here.

'You could comfortably fit King's College Chapel onto the site. We are next to the beautiful Catholic Church of Our Lady of the English Martyrs but also next to Harvey Road, a former residential conservation area. Gonville & Caius College is planning a student graduate centre next door. What is the potential?'

'I am asking you to help us on the thinking for the site and what it could give to the centre of Cambridge? One pair of teams might look at the site’s position in relation to the wider city and the urban scale and suggest opportunities they see from its location. A second pair of teams could look at the level of its immediate context and consider how a development should relate to this immediate setting (what are the opportunities and constraints?. A third pair of teams might consider an individual space within a future development – what qualities would a future environment for work or research have? How are such environments changing? A pair of groups will build models with plasticine. Please consider public realm, and whether there are opportunities for new (walking) routes across the site.

'It's been a gateway site since the 14th century, The Perse School was there from mid 1800s and some of the fabric survives, The Catholic church from the late 19th century (funded by the widow of the man who patented moveable dolls' eyes!) is an important landmark, but now the Cambridge Examination Board's post-war buildings make up much of the site, These are not prepossessing and not very dense. The open space of Parker's Piece starts at the North of the area, Planning-wise our site has been identified as an Opportunity Area in the Local Plan, looking for intensification, The official brief (from Cambridge University) talks about delivering employment space, though it is up for debate what type of employment this might be.

The teams reported back on their discussions.

Barton Willmore's Richard Maung - who is a planner in the firm's Cambridge office - explained his team's thinking on how the site should be used:

' It's very much a mixed use site, not great for life sciences but better for standard offices and technology companies drawing on the on success of the CB1 district and station quarter nearby. It does not knit in well with the city at the moment. It needs a cafe and retail on ground level. The opportunity is there to become a stepping stone from the station to the city core. There is a need for more build-to-rent in Cambridge and this site could support that. From a design perspective, go as high as you can but be mindful of the church spire next door. The development must contribute to biodiversity but as it's not a pocket park it will have to work hard in that area. Importantly it could create a visual link to Parker's Piece.'

Keith Papa, Science Sector lead for architects and engineers BDP (who are the executive architects for AstraZeneca's new Cambridge building), spoke for his team - which included Historic England's Tony Calladine and Dr Araminta Ledger of Cambridge University Health Partners:

'Maintaining the history of the site is important. The church spire is a real marker so views of it must be protected. There is the opportunity to extend a cafe space to the Regent Street corner at ground level and this might help to open a route to Parker's Piece and to encourage people into the site. We did not think it was science space per se but we felt an Apart Hotel could work - as this type of accommodation is thin on the ground in Cambridge. We felt some form of penthouse at the roof level of the building might help to generate income. We know that the WeWork space further up Hills Road is popular so we think a similar thing here would fit well, complemented with retail and cafe space. However it's important to provide something that does not require a financial spend to enter so we suggest a resource centre to support home from home working with some green space that would help attract people in.'

Another group looked at uses for the site, and Nicola Longland of LDA Design spoke for the team - which included Cambridge City Council's Chief Executive, Robert Pollock, Tom Nash. real estate partner at Mills & Reeve , planner Nick Finney from Arup, and Liz Hampson, the head of brand and marketing for life sciences property investor, Bruntwood SciTech:

'It's great landmark, a cross, so could we make it the collaboration point on the main thoroughfare from station to centre? Could it be a tourist attraction from where you see the historic spires of Cambridge? This site should be an exemplar of innovation and sustainability - in fact what Cambridge stands for. We like the idea of green space so we think there should be a physical, green diagonal link through the site. There are two parts - a public side on one side bringing people together, including culture and a showpiece, and the other made up of mixed-use with offices and denser housing which will be more private. We also thought about how to bring the community together. This might involve a 'winter garden' or a productive garden and a 'healthy street', or perhaps places for street food and a market. Could this be something that is developed with culture, setting a new standard for this part of the city? Affordable housing is important as well.'

Fred liked the layering of uses and offering an elevated view to visitors, and community engagement at the junction.

A fourth team, which included developer BioMed Realty's Orestis Tzortzoglou, Alice Midmer from the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and Bruntwood SciTech's Head of Life Sciences, Kath Mackay, looked at the massing of buildings to create higher density. Alex Grigull, Associate at architects Grimshaw, commented:

'We looked at how could we put mass round the sides of the site, permeable but with a hard edge along the main street front - though we want the spire to be a main focus of the junction so we will step the massing back. There is a clear progression of height. Two functions come together, with a public facing one with numerous uses - perhaps offices, for tech companies and then at the back parkland which is where we can put in housing for students or an aparthotel. We have kept a route through for walking allowing people to meander. The outside space provides relief and relaxation away from your work space. The parkland frames the view to the church.'

John McElgunn of architects RSHP (pictured above pointing at model) spoke for the final team, which included Bruntwood SciTech's CEO Kate Lawlor, Simon Payne of Lambsquay Consulting, and Fiona McGonigle of ARU Peterborough, Anglia Ruskin University's new campus:

'The first idea we discussed was based around the importance of protecting the spire of the church, which is .visible from the Fens twelve miles away, and leaving it in clear space - so we have just massed our buildings up to the roof height of the church, leaving the tower and spire free. The junction at Regent Street and Hills Road does not work so let's open it up, and reinforce the connection to the park at Parker's Piece - this has been picked up by two or three teams. We can put in active food and beverage at ground level and this allows Regent Street and Hills Road to merge a bit. Further up Hills Road we decided to keep our buildings long and low with transparency on top, respecting the heritage of the streets around it, and perhaps we will put in an active arcade, related to the commercial function inside. We had an idea about having parkland in the site, and also we will try to respond to the lovely pockets of private green space nearby on adjoining roads and allow them to proliferate into the scheme.'

Thank you once again to Fred Pilbrow for leading this important workshop at Future Cities Forum.


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