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Jestico + Whiles completes key new learning centre for the University of Cambridge

A new building that offers co-working and social spaces, the West Hub marks the start of the transformation of the West Cambridge Site into a centre for innovation.

26/05/2022 3 min read

Located in the heart of West Cambridge, the West Hub is key to the University’s vision to transform the site into a lively and active teaching and research quarter for the city. The new building represents a step change in the way the University provides amenities as a shared resource for staff, students and neighbouring institutions.

The West Hub is an integral part of a wider redevelopment of the West masterplan, which will include the Jestico + Whiles-designed Ray Dolby Centre (the new centrepiece of the Cavendish Laboratory, the University’s world-renowned Physics department),and a new landscaped garden that will sit between the two new buildings.

In approaching the West Hub, Jestico + Whiles saw an opportunity to develop a new building typology for the University. Following extensive consultations with a wide range of University and community stakeholders, Jestico + Whiles was inspired to use its experience in other sectors to inform the concept for the building: drawing on examples such as contemporary restaurants and collaborative workspaces, the practice envisioned a flexible space that nurtures cross-departmental connection, encouraging staff and students to engage with each other as well as industry partners and the wider community.

Envisaged around both the needs of the community and the preferences of the individual, the West Hub offers a variety of attractive, adaptable and high-quality spaces for studying, meeting and socialising. More structured spaces within the building are coupled with generous circulation areas that can be used as breakout and informal social or study areas.

The West Hub has both a traditional library space and a range of individual and small group study areas. These areas are in a variety of semi-enclosed and open plan environments. The academic functions within the building are supported by a new cafeteria and bar at ground level that open directly into the new green space and public realm.

The building is graduated vertically, and each storey height is different, creating a spectrum of ambiances and environments; a vibrant, active and lively ground floor with a focus on hospitality, a relaxed, calmer first floor, through to a quieter upper floor, intended for focused study.

A ribbon of bespoke fixed furniture creates a striking central spine that weaves the length of the building. Dubbed the ‘learning spine’, this was created as an organisation tool within the building, part wayfinding, part furniture, part spatial divider. The learning spine functions to enclose private spaces, relaxing to create openings, to frame views or fracturing to subdivide larger rooms. The main stair, formed of painted steel plate, the performs a similar role. Visible throughout the building, it links the building vertically as its articulated form uncoils within the central atrium.

These spatial typologies were based in part on a University of Cambridge research paper, ‘Photolib: Researching and Reimagining Library Environments’ which set out to build a detailed and reliable picture of the study needs across the University. Jestico + Whiles built on this research to develop a detailed brief for the building. In doing so, the concept of low, medium and high intensity study spaces was established; each requiring a different approach to acoustics, furniture, space and flexibility.

This detailed knowledge enabled Jestico + Whiles to develop a transformative teaching and learning environment for the University, where carefully considered adjacencies, based on real world research, enabled flexibility in use and efficiencies across the whole building. As a result, the building is highly flexible, responding to day-to-day changes in use and activity and in the longer term meet changing requirements over time.

The building is clad in folded and perforated aluminium, which appears as a veil and reflects the hues and colours of the surrounding landscape. Its appearance is dynamic and changes from day to day and hour by hour, reflecting the shifting patterns of daylight and changes in season. At dusk, integrated lighting within the façade glows through the perforated cladding and brings the building to life, revealing a warm lantern-like acting as a beacon at the heart of the campus.

The building achieves BREEAM ‘Excellent’ and adopts many aspects of the WELL standard including: good quantities of natural light, promoting the use of stairs, activity based working and Biophilia – a connection with nature. Buildings containing features of the natural environment are more supportive of human well-being and performance, and to this end planting and internal gardens have been introduced within the building and to the external terrace. The West Hub provides good quantities of natural daylight, a variety of spaces to accommodate different types of work and activities and a strong connection with nature, by integrating plants and trees within the fabric of the building.

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