Fibre cement cladding from Marley Eternit has helped the University of Cambridge’s Department of Architecture realise a studio building that “seriously addresses sustainability in its construction”.

The Marley Eternit Anthracite-coloured Natura Plus panels were specified by fibre cement enthusiasts Mole Architects and installed by main contractors ISG Retail and Leisure (formerly ISG Dean & Bowes) in a large-scale weatherboard pattern to the façade of the £1.5 million extension.

The new 422m² studio building forms part of a £3 million refurbishment and expansion scheme for the Department. It sits to the rear of the listed Georgian Scroope Terrace which was refurbished and converted into offices by Freeland Rees Roberts Architects for the Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies as well as adjacent to a 1958 extension and is linked to the two via open bridges.

It comprises a single studio space capable of accommodating 120 undergraduates which sits on glutam columns over a workshop and the existing car park at ground level. Head of Department Professor Marcial Echenique wanted a single teaching space clear of columns and a building made of timber.

Mole Architects pictured a contemporary version of the Victorian warehouse buildings that suit art schools so well, with the cast iron replaced by timber, and positioned and designed the new building using materials to ensure minimum heat loss and maximum natural cooling. Its form is determined by this function.

The north lights in the saw tooth roof are a recognised solution to provide even, natural light without solar gain and a low-energy cooling strategy uses high-level windows for night time cooling and cross ventilation, supported by an innovative, water-based radiant cooling system.

Within the expressed structural timber frame, which gives a rhythm to the elevations, lie the Marley Eternit panels, secret fixed as a large-scale rainscreen version of weatherboarding.

Meredith Bowles of Mole Architects, who has used Marley Eternit’s fibre cement material to award-winning effect on his own home, said: “The building was designed to be a low cost building that seriously addresses sustainability in its construction.

“The cladding is intended to evoke timber weatherboarding on a large scale. We discounted timber cladding early on which we thought would not work in the historic context and the Natura Plus has been used as a rainscreen.

“Cement fibre was chosen as a low-cost, low-maintenance material, that designed right will look good. I have used it before and been impressed by the surface finish and durability. Its muted surface allows it to work well against natural materials such as stone or brick while also being clearly contemporary.

“It is expected that this building will gain attention both for its design and by virtue of its high profile nature within the architectural community and I think the clients were a little worried about the long-term durability and whether the building would look too plain. But now it is up and the cladding is in place, it’s clear it works.”

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