Technical Study: North West Cambridge housing by Stanton Williams

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The architect’s first affordable housing creates a sense of intimacy while complying with tough daylight regulations, writes Elizabeth Hopkirk

Cambridge is a city characterised by two atmospheric forms of urban void: narrow lanes and college quads. Today, partly as a result of these attractive spaces, the city’s housing is in extraordinary demand – and it needs a lot more if prices aren’t to spiral out of control.

The irony, of course, is that it is nigh-on impossible to build the required new homes in 21st-century versions of those intimate streets. Modern daylight requirements mean buildings of four or five storeys must stand an unfriendly 18-20m from each other. It’s not easy to create a characterful place on those terms and, as a result, soulless avenues and windswept squares are a familiar experience in new developments all over Britain.

Even one of the country’s best projects – the North West Cambridge extension, whose masterplan by Aecom is a contender for this year’s Stirling Prize – has some monotonous wide avenues where kerbside nature strips aren’t enough to disguise the broad expanses of Tarmac.

It is this planning context that makes the intimate spaces which Stanton Williams has created on a 1.8ha plot at the heart of the development all the more remarkable.

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