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Hamerton College, Cambridge Canteen: Good enough to eat at Architecture

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Inell it’s a treat. A new building that is serious and responsible – one might say, the merits of Keira Starmer; adjectives that can be synonymous with boring are also luxurious and amazing, which is fascinating from the things that make up architecture, from materials, space, light and crafts. Which is strange and intentional. It risks looking amazing and rewarded with beauty.

That’s it new dining room Hammerton College, Cambridge, built Barnes Building Suffolk and designed Feilden Fowles – Fergus Feilden and Edmund Fowles – architects under the age of 40 with several works performed, in particular in historical and sensitive conditions such as Carlisle Cathedral and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. At times, they looked as if they were becoming a perfectly safe and thorough practice that this country periodically produces. This building, however, is bold.

Hamerton, who previously taught teachers, has been a full-fledged Cambridge College only since 2010 and now offers all university subjects. It is literally on the wrong side of the road, which can be reached by a busy road bridge over the railway lines to Cambridge station. Despite the fact that the college itself is located in a pleasant area, in its vicinity there are no antlers and willows, as well as the venerable architecture for which the city is famous.

These “imaginary downsides,” says Jeff Ward, the recently retired director of Hamerton, are actually “pros”. It is close to the biomedical campus, where the headquarters of companies such as AstraZeneca are located, which creates an opportunity for collaboration. The college also has the most diverse admission among all at the university. He offers “Cambridge education without Cambridge stereotypes,” as one student explained its appeal. Thus, its new building worth £ 10.4 million should evoke the confidence of the newly converted institution and cater to the growing number of students while embodying an open and uncomfortable spirit.

The college has an older dining room that will now be used for receptions and events and the like, in a neo-Gothic style that tries too hard to emulate the interiors of ancient colleges. It is a dark and stuffy place, with a soul of overcooked meat and gravy. This is an introvert. The new space using a rectangular plan and the wooden vault of the traditional hall is both bright and full of light.

Interior of the dining room of Hamerton College
The interior of the dining room with the ease of “biplane made of balsam wood.” Photo: David Grandorge

Glazed openings run along one side, revealing generous views of the lush gardens. The opposite side opens into more modest spaces, a server and kitchen outside, and an informal coffee shop. The gabled roof of the old-fashioned hall is inverted into a large embroidered V ceiling that rises on each side to have high strips of glazing. Where once there were massive oak beams, engineers Structure Workshop here developed a design of pale X-shapes, made of sweet chestnut, with all the subtlety allowed by modern technology.

The beam is held in place by joints and wooden pegs, without steel bolts or plates, which brings some benefits in terms of stability. This is also an example of the unclaimed thoughtfulness of the building. The wood paneling is softly corrugated to capture light and shadow. The floor in shades of gray-green terrace in a strong pattern of pointed triangles, subtly complements the silk-pink concrete that frames the openings in the garden. Colors and shapes quietly resonate with each other.

The old college buildings form the background of the new building.
The old college buildings form the background of the new building. Photo: David Grandorge

The openness and thoughtfulness of the design extends to kitchens filled with light and well organized and visually connected both to the surrounding spaces and outside. The large glass wall in the coffee shop faces the gable of the older college building, thus becoming the backdrop to the interior. Every element, historical or functional, has its dignity.

But what really gives the building elegance is its appearance. Here the V-shaped ceiling is manifested in the form of an M-shaped pediment at both ends of a large box, fully clad in green faience. The material is spotty and watery, always shifting with light and angle of view, catching shadows and reflective reflections. Although it is flat, it invites a peek into its depths.

On the sides of the building the faience has the form of a shallow relief of thin vertical triangular shapes designed to echo a small copper spire on top of the old college dining room. These triangles extend into the high vertical ribs at the top of the elevation, framing the glass panels of the high hall windows. All of this is located on a fairly substantial basis in this pinkish concrete, where students are invited to sit on built-in benches in deep openings. Behind again something else, a beautiful brick structure with kitchens.

Because of the joy of dining room materials it is difficult to win: the game of flat and sculptural, matte and shiny, pink and green, angular faience and rounded shadows formed in concrete dents. The way the add-on stands on its low base, contrasting in almost every way, may be disproportionate, borderline inconvenient, but it’s all the more exciting. If you’d like to reflect on architecture, you could say it’s a little valuable and non-radical, a little smug in its Cambridge bubble, but you need to be in a bad mood to do it most.

Cafe area.
Pinkish concrete, a built-in seat under the window and a feeling of “openness and attention”. Photo: David Grandorge

Design also does something with your perception. The exterior cladding makes the building more solid and opaque than it is, the wide glazing on top is barely noticeable among the greenish shiny material, and the vertical ribs hide the glass in oblique views. This surprises the fragility of the interior. What Tardis does with dimensions, the dining room does with mass: on the outside it resembles a large glazed brick, on the inside a biplane made of balsam wood, but these two characters somehow come together to create the same building.

In other words, there is paradox and inversion. What you see is not what you get. This quality makes the dining room more than an exercise in good detail and a well-chosen finish. It engages your mind and feelings. This makes the weight and light more sensitive. He invites you to understand him by moving on it. By refusing to dwell on one reading, forcing you to guess what it is, the ambiguity of architecture instills in it both grandiosity and nonsense.

Architecture is asked to carry a lot of cargo. It is expected to be sustainable and socially charitable, accessible and sensitive to historical circumstances. That should be because it is public art, an environment for people to live in, but with all the worries about what to do good, one can ignore what actually makes buildings enjoyable, as well as the skills and art of the architect. .

They can be summarized as doing things with things, like putting together the necessary minerals and building volumes so that you are moved, provoked and engaged, and that the sense of everything that is going on in and around it is enhanced. Hamerton College Canteen is doing the right thing on the part of the environment and its users. It is also an architectural pleasure.

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