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Eve Waldron Design sets the standard for sustainable workplace interiors

The new home of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, Entopia is a ground-breaking case study on environmentally-conscious design.

09/05/2023

4 min read

Project Team

  • Client

    CISL (Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership)

  • Interior Designer

    Eve Waldron Design

  • Architect

    Architype, Feilden+Mawson

  • Furniture

    Eve Waldron Design, Nomique, Vepa, Humanscale, New Design Group, Revive Innovations, Bisley, Very Good & Proper, Hay, Benchmark, James Tobias, Wedd

  • Second hand furniture

    Eve Waldron Design sourced from CISL and the second hand market

  • Surfaces

    Moso Bamboo, Richlite, Stratum Bamboo, Alusid, PLANQ, Foresso, Cecence, Stramit, Durat, Kvadrat, Camira, InLoom

  • Flooring

    Forbo, Interface

This article first appeared in Mix Interiors #224

Words: Dominic Lutyens
Photography: Jack Hobhouse and Architype


Against a glowing sunflower yellow wall in the lobby of Entopia, the new home of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) – part of the University of Cambridge’s Technology School – a sign spells out the organisation’s name in an earthy brown. Next to it is the university’s coat-of-arms. It’s emblazoned with four gold lions passant guardant – heraldry-speak for walking, one foreleg raised, while looking at the viewer – against a crimson backdrop and separated by an ermine-patterned cross (symbolic of the royal patronage enjoyed by the university). But here the coat-of-arms is made of a brown and beige material with an uneven, flecked surface – hemp board, to be precise. Prominently positioned, the heraldic feature broadcasts Entopia’s commitment to sustainable architecture and interior design.

The project inevitably aims to be a standard-bearer for the circular economy – hence its many elements made of, or incorporating, bio-based materials, the term for materials derived from living organisms that are renewable, biodegradable and responsibly sourced. Hemp grows almost anywhere, is highly versatile and is also available as a textile with an appealingly tweedy look. Contract fabrics firm Camira supplied upholstery fabrics that cover many chairs at Entopia.

Innovative uses of renewable materials have been deployed throughout the six-storey building by Cambridge-based architectural design consultancy, Eve Waldron Design. The name Entopia references a concept developed by Envision Group – a green technology company and donor to the project – to shape a future in which access to clean, affordable energy is available to all.

“Several architects were involved, such as Architype, the lead sustainability architect, and Feilden+Mawson,” says studio founder Waldron. “We were mainly brought on to deal with Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E), finishes and bespoke designs. Our role grew over time as we designed the kitchens and bespoke plywood joinery. We tried to use and reuse as much material from the previous fit-out and other sources as possible. We had a goal for 60% of the furniture to be second hand or to come from CISL’s stock of furniture. It was a challenging project on various fronts. Much of it was carried out during lockdowns. Although we tried to procure as many products from UK sources, we originally planned to source plywood from Russia. But when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, we had to source it elsewhere – from Spain in the end.”

A visitor to Entopia wouldn’t necessarily know that much of its furniture and fittings are made of sustainable materials, so convincingly do these mimic or function in the same way as more traditional, less environmentally friendly materials. Here there are bamboo kitchenettes, hemp-board lockers and flooring made of linoleum, 97% of which is composed of natural materials – chiefly linseed oil extracted from flax plant seeds. Punctuating different parts of the interior, such as the lobby, toilets and tea points, the linoleum is in various aesthetically pleasing shades, including jewel-bright lapis lazuli and moodier indigo.

CISL formerly occupied five offices scattered throughout the university’s estate. At Entopia – a retrofit of a non-listed telephone exchange, designed by George Ford and built in 1939, located in a conservation area in central Cambridge – CISL has centralised its operations. The building was also occupied for a while by Cambridge Assessment, which operates four examination boards.

CISL’s move to Entopia is intended to encourage staff to collaborate more easily than when they worked in different buildings. It houses its own incubator called Canopy for start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises. This occupies one-third of the 2,939 sq m building. Entopia also boasts a large roof terrace and solar panels forming a canopy.

The project goes much further than maximising its inclusion of bio-based materials: it aims to minimise whole-life embodied carbon, which spans carbon emissions arising from the extraction and transportation of resources exploited in the production of materials and equipment and their manufacture and transportation to the site and installation. Crucially, the project didn’t just content itself with avoiding operational carbon – carbon emissions released by a building’s use alone. Materials used for insulation include hemp, cork render and wood-fibre, while a cellulose material made of recycled newspaper was sprayed on to ceilings to improve acoustic levels. The project aimed to achieve such certifications as BREEM (Outstanding), the Passivhaus EnerPHit standard and WELL (Gold).

Waldron says she had fun too, procuring stylish second hand furniture for the project. “On the whole, we went to big second hand furniture dealers as we needed large quantities of pieces, such as 250 task chairs.”

One guiding principle behind the project was sourcing design classics that have transcended design trends and so have stood the test of time. “The pieces had to be of contract quality and fit for purpose,” she explains. “Many of the pieces we chose were by good, recognisable brands. When furniture has longevity it’s implicitly sustainable – a form of future-proofing in itself.”

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