Accordia, Cambridge

Cambridge is an important historic University City and regional service centre with a population of around 123,000. The development is about 2km from the city centre and 600m from the railway station.
 

Planning and Process

The 9.6ha Accordia development is part of a larger 12.10ha regeneration site identified in the Cambridge Local Plan (1996) for housing, offices, hotel, and public open space.
 
The objectives for the development were: to create a premier housing development in Cambridge: to establish cohesiveness with the Cambridge context in general, the immediate surroundings and the development: to enable a mixed and long-term community on the Accordia site; and to build a profitable development
 
Cambridge City Council made sure its high aspirations for the site were upheld by acting firmly to provide clear guidelines that still allowed for flexibility and architectural creativity. Permission for the development was withheld until ‘suitable’ architects were found by the developers.
 
One of the most distinctive aspects of the process was the decision by lead architects, Feilden Clegg Bradley (FCB), to subcontract two other architect firms. The reasoning was that this would add architectural variety and immediate longevity to the site. Doubt from the developers was alleviated by FCB taking full responsibility for overseeing the two firms and the Masterplanning. 
 
The development comprises 378 dwellings, a mixture of houses and flats, with 33% social housing.
Accordia plan
Accordia plan © Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects 
Accordia, Cambridge
Accordia, Cambridge
Accordia, Cambridge
Accordia images © Brian Human

Partnership

Countryside Properties were Accordia’s initial developer, selling phase 2 and 3 of Accordia to Redeham Homes in 2006. Although the developer’s task was aided by the clear brief of Cambridge City Council, they were praised for their architectural risk-taking in a somewhat difficult economic climate. Contrary to much modern housing, they backed high quality design and materials and did not shy away from creativity and innovation after their appointment of FCB.
  

Climate Change

The Accordia homes were built through ‘Innovative Methods of Construction’ and the scheme features high SAP ratings, however, the sustainability agenda has moved on rapidly since the Masterplan was agreed. Despite this, there are features which address climate change issues, e.g. through high thermal mass building and flat sedum-planted ‘living roofs’. Accordia incorporates sustainable urban drainage features including:
  • the use of Swales;
  • a small reed bed water treatment pond;
  • controls over what water could flow back into Hobson’s Brook; and
  • permeable external surfaces.
A further contribution is made through the development’s focus on sustainable as opposed to vehicular transport. Parking (at a ratio of 1:1.26) is provided in underground plots beneath the large apartment blocks, in generous garages and car ports and in larger car parking courts. While some residents feel that parking is inadequate, others see the suppressed supply as integral to the sustainability and environmental agenda of Accordia, pushing those who move to the development to adopt more sustainable modes of travel.
 

Community

Internal layouts and house plans work with clearly delineated threshold spaces and building frontages to allow for the range of lifestyles and the customisation essential in enabling long term residency and thus enduring communities.
 

Design

Accordia’s mews-style areas are small scale and intimate.   Their primary use is for access to garages and the live/work rooms above garages in the larger houses. The Mews streets play a key part in creating self-policing neighbourhoods, in terms of both speed limitations and keeping vehicles off-road.   In addition, the use of shared surfaces found in these tightly planned spaces blurs the boundaries between vehicular, pedestrian and cycle routes, further calming traffic and providing a focus on sustainable rather than motor vehicular transport.
 
Accordia provides very generous open space compared with developments locally. It is in line the Masterplanning concept of ‘Living in a Garden’ - 3.5ha of the 9.6ha are landscaped. Due to the generosity of these spaces, the overall density of the scheme is comparatively low - 47 units per hectare overall, 65 units per hectare in built area.
 

Learning from the Past and Present

A large part of Accordia’s success flows from its context led design: consideration of the broader Cambridge context from architectural, historical, geographical and economic points of view. The development is strongly informed by its local context, reflecting in both design and material the surrounding historic developments for example, the use of common Cambridge-style yellow brick and a copper-cladding which connect the houses to traditions in Cambridge.   Accordia’s architectural frontage is designed with modernist interpretations of the traditional villas opposite.
 
Brian Human, Vice-Chair, HTF
22nd February 2010
 
For further details please see www.cabe.org.uk/case-studies/accordia/design