Cambridge: A Place for Encounters by Tom Waddicor


This week we celebrate two milestones at Maccreanor Lavington: a celebration of 30 years in practice; and a welcome return to joint London-Rotterdam studio study trips.

Previously a mainstay in the annual calendar, the office trip was sadly paused during the lockdown years with the last in-person get together of all Maccreanor Lavington staff taking place in Milan in 2019. The pause has allowed us time to reflect on how we travel, so destinations requiring short-haul flights were eschewed in favour of something closer to home, taking us to Cambridge by train and by boat to return to the birthplace of our first large-scale UK housing scheme: Accordia.

It felt like a fitting destination to enjoy architecture together as one Anglo-Dutch family and to see our Stirling Prize winning scheme which turns 15 this year, alongside more recent schemes such as our student housing for the University at Eddington. To see both new and established buildings with those who designed them brings a depth of knowledge that a Teams meeting or slide presentation online can never replicate.

Accordia is weathering incredibly well, possibly even getting better with age – a testament to the practice’s dedication to simple materials, detailed well. It is credit, too, to the overall masterplan by Feilden Clegg Bradley, the lush and generous landscape design of Grant Associates and the curated mix of buildings including those by Alison Brookes. It is the built manifestation of genuine and positive collaboration.

The theme of coming together has been a narrative for the trip and we have been treated to wider conversations with tours and talks by Fergus Feilden, Tim Allen-Booth of Niall McLaughlin, Nicholas Ray and Koen Steemers who have shared their expertise, knowledge and experience with generosity.  A note that resonated, was in Nick Ray’s overview of the architectural development of Cambridge and it’s emergence as a City of Courts. The benefits, he noted, of the stair-based plans of college buildings is not the lack of corridors on upper floors, but the animation of the ground floor where these stairs deliver students direct to the outdoors, enabling the courtyard to become ‘a place for encounters’.

So whilst our trip was ostensibly about studying architecture, the real value it delivered was in making a time and a place for encounters. English and Dutch. New starters and founding directors. Architects and Urbanists. We all feel better, more complete somehow, when we take time to come together. We look forward to many more office trips as we enter our next decade in practice and hope, too, to enjoy coming together with clients, collaborators and colleagues past at our 30th party this evening.