Northstowe House is a flagship office and exhibition space providing a new south eastern base for the UK Government’s housing agency – Homes England.
The building is located within phase 2 of the new town of Northstowe to the north of Cambridge, on the site of a previous WWII RAF base. Once complete, Northstowe will comprise of 10,000 new homes.
A key aspiration was to challenge the preconceived limitations of offsite office construction and deliver a building that avoids the appearance of conventional and ubiquitous prefabricated architecture. In response to the edge-of-Fenland location, the design references the simple form of agricultural vernacular buildings, textures and crafts. A key component is a canopy of locally manufactured woven willow hurdles set within galvanized steel frames – a prominent landmark overlooking the surrounding landscape that references traditional coppicing and weaving crafts. The canopy design loosely references the sectional profile and construction of WWII aircraft wings.
Given the exposed nature of the site and positioning of the canopy, galvanizing the steelwork was seen as the best way of protecting the steel structure from wind and rain, ensuring longevity, while minimising maintenance. Galvanizing was also chosen for its aesthetic characteristics. The light grey dappled galvanized texture provides a stark contrast against the willow soffit; accentuating the frames and modularity of the canopy. While the unique industrial quality of galvanized metal creates a material connection to the former RAF heritage and military buildings that occupied the site historically.
The first-floor wall panels and steel framework supporting the canopy share a terracotta colour palette that references the colour of many Roman pottery shards discovered as part of the extensive archaeological investigations across Northstowe.
The design explores ideas for structured and informal work environments: a response to the working patterns of Homes England employees. The building is arranged as two modular wings of office accommodation with a central breakout space organised around an ancillary/circulation core.
Reception, exhibition and meeting room spaces are located at ground level with office accommodation above. Direct access is provided to the outdoor working deck created in response to the wider Healthy New Town agenda at Northstowe. The design pushes the restrictions of offsite construction to achieve large open plan spaces with generous floor to ceiling heights, tall double height space and wide floor to ceiling windows.
(Content provided by Proctor & Matthews Architects)