skip to primary navigationskip to content

The Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies

- the research arm of the Department of Architecture

Studying at Cambridge


North West Cambridge Urban Design Charrette

NW Cambridge charrette

Graduate students at Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture have put forward their vision for North West Cambridge, currently the most ambitious expansion of the University and the city.  The publication of their charrette findings coincides with the University’s interviews this week to select architects for the nine separate commissions that it will shortly make in the Phase 1 development.  A large number of distinguished architects and landscape architects are among the interviewees.

The first phase of the development includes dwellings for graduate students, faculty, staff and the wider community, a 2000 square metre supermarket and other retail spaces, an energy centre, a hotel, a health and community facility, and a local primary school.  The Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, said: ”At North West Cambridge we are determined to create a successful, sustainable, mixed-use community as an extension of the City, with buildings and public space of high quality design.”

Contrary to previous efforts of campus expansion, the students proposed a strong focal point in the new urban quarter, which they anchor with a bus stop for frequent services to town and station, and a novel ‘Porter’s Lodge’ acting as a pivot point for the neighbourhood.  They also made most buildings face streets – like in the historic town centre – so that eyes and access on the streets can help create a safe and welcoming environment from the start.   Their 12-point recommendations use building and street design to make NW Cambridge a desirable destination for both ‘town’ and ‘gown’.

The graduate students’ design exercise took a unique, three stage ‘charrette’ format with intensive teamwork during four long weekends, sandwiched with three reviews and reflection periods.  Weekend working brought together students from diverse courses and specialisms.  Although repeated design-review cycles are common in studio teaching, quickly repeated charrettes in succession focused on one single project is rare.  Students were able to progress rapidly, as well as bringing to bear their creativity and diverse perspectives.

The progression of the charrette shows that the University will need very strong urban design guidelines and review process to harness the creative energy of talented designers in producing a coherent neighbourhood for Phase 1. 

Commenting on the charrette, Professor Jeremy Sanders, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University for Institutional Affairs, said: “I personally was delighted to be able to attend all three workshops and to be able to contribute to the discussions and evolving thinking. ... This experience will be invaluable in the coming weeks and months as we choose architects and landscape designers”.

Jonathan Rose, Principal of AECOM the Masterplanner for the North West Development project, said: “the image of a campanile marking North West Cambridge is beguiling, the efficacy of which will be discussed with the appointed architects and the University’s development team amongst other suggestions, in due course”.

The NW Cambridge Urban Design Charrette

Fifteen graduate students along with six teaching staff took part in the charrette.  The charrette was directed by Prof John Ellis and Dr Ying Jin, and reviewed by a distinguished panel consisting of eleven senior academics and practitioners.  The summary findings from the charrette are published here along with reviewers’ commentaries.

The charrette team is supported by the Department as well as the University.  Professor Jeremy Sanders, pro-Vice Chancellor for Institutional Affairs and Mr Roger Taylor, the Head of the North West Cambridge Development Office were among their reviewers.  The team also benefited from an initial briefing by AECOM, the masterplanning consultant to the University.

A more detailed report on the Urban Design Charrette is in preparation which will present the detailed urban design proposals.  Meanwhile Professor Ellis ( and Dr Jin ( together with the student teams would be happy to respond to queries regarding the findings and recommendations.

Prof John G. Ellis AIA RIBA is the inaugural Sir Arthur Marshall Visiting Professor of Sustainable Urban Design at Cambridge University. A graduate from Cambridge Department of Architecture, he has lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1977, where he is a Principal and Director of Urban Design with Daniel Solomon Design Partners. He has taught at UC Berkeley in the Master of Urban Design (MUD) since 1980.

Dr Ying Jin is a University Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies.  Trained as an architect, he specialises in land use and transport planning, urban design and microcirculation.  He is a coordinator of Cambridge University’s Energy Efficient Cities initiative ( and a co-Investigator at the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (   

NW Cambridge Development

The University’s Masterplan for the North West Cambridge development, which proposes to build a mixed-use community as part of a long term, planned expansion of the University and town. The development is located on a 140 hectare University owned site bounded by the M11 Motorway, Madingley Road and Huntingdon Road.  The masterplan aims to create a sustainable community that is both distinct and yet an integral part of the City of Cambridge.  For more details, see