It’s the city known globally for its university. Not to mention a world leading science park, hospital and biomedical industry which attract la crème de la workforce across Europe. The latest Centre for Cities report states that it has the most highly skilled workforce in the UK. It has the third fastest growing population in the country and one of the highest average earnings.
Little wonder Homes by Skanska chose Cambridge for its first UK residential development. The company launched last November at the DesignMuseum, appropriately enough. Now the show home at its Cambridge development Seven Acres has just been unveiled. Magnus Andersson is President of Skanska Residential Development UK.
“Skanska has a long tradition of Scandinavian home building,” says Magnus. “We’ve brought the best of it to the UK. High floor to ceiling heights and flexible open plan living are just some of key elements.” All the homes meet Code for Sustainable Homes 4. “One of our homes even meets Code 5!” he states. “It’s been sold already.” Rainwater harvesting and heat recycling take it to the next level.
Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of the Home Builders Federation, approves. “If this is what Code 4 and Code 5 homes look like, we have little to fear.” Seven Acres is mercifully free of the usual unsightly environmental accretions such as wind turbines. The approach is much more design integrated. Photovoltaic panels are hidden behind low parapets on the flat roofs. Natural light permeates the top floor bathrooms through circular skylights, a clever Victorian idea recycled. Mini allotments are another sustainable feature.
Seven Acres is a mortar board’s throw away from Addenbrooke’s Hospital. A new guided bus corridor connects the two. The hospital is at the centre of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus where 200,000 sqm new laboratories are being developed.” The development forms part of the southern fringe expansion of the university city. An estimated 16,700 new homes are required.
“There is nationwide demand for 250,000 homes per annum,” reports Stewart. “The population is growing older and changing shape. Yet nowhere near enough residential development is taking place. Causes of the shortage of new homes include lack of bank credit and the planning system. Homes by Skanska is a rare new entrant to this challenging housing market.”
Toby Greenhow, Residential Development Director at Savills, knows more than most about the challenging housing market. He explains, “Any development should tick at least two out of three boxes. That’s: be a well known brand; have a recognised location; and sell a traditional product. Seven Acres had none of these!” Skanska may be an international name but hasn’t to date been associated with housebuilding in England. Up until a year ago, Seven Acres was, well, seven acres of farmland. And Formation Architects have ensured the architecture is anything but traditional.
Nonetheless the development is a commercial success. “A professor and his wife who works in academia were two of our first customers,” Magnus confirms. “It’s attracting an educated sophisticated Euro mix,” adds Toby,” and proving very popular with academics and scientists. They are very sustainability aware. It’s not a coincidence that cycling is the most popular mode of transport in Cambridge.”
The show home is an end of terrace overlooking a village green type space. It’s faced with pale grey brick reminiscent of the stone architecture forever associated with Cambridge. Homes by Skanska’s trademark full height timber bench stretches elegantly up the front wall. A garage with cycle spaces, natch, is incorporated into the building envelope.
The remainder of the ground floor is occupied on either side of the staircase by a downstairs loo to the front and the combined kitchen and dining area to the rear. Airiness and spaciousness pervade. Spare Scandinavian elegance. Where’s the clutter? It’s not just show home tidiness – storage spaces abound. A door sliding into the thickness of the wall allows for a flow of light and circulation from the glazed entrance door to the patio doors and to the garden beyond.
A dual aspect sitting room is located above the garage. A sweep of terrace embraces the full width of the house. Two spacious bedrooms including one en suite are also located on the first floor. The attention to detail is unmissable, from clever lighting insets to an intelligently placed window strip positioned to allow direct views from the bed on lazy Sunday mornings. Full height windows, 2.9m tall, meet eco credentials as they are triple glazed. Two more bedrooms are on the top floor. The landing opens onto another expanse of terrace over the sitting room.
“Homes by Skanska are willing to invest in research and development,” believes Stewart. “They are pioneers, not followers. No doubt by 2016 when the Government’s mandatory low carbon agenda kicks in they will be even further ahead of the game.” Academic par excellence Stephen Hawking believes intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. In that case, the future looks bright for Homes by Skanska.