BDP and Arup to restore Stirling Building at University of Cambridge

Building Design Partnership (BDP)—a global architecture office headquartered in Manchester, England—has been tapped by the University of Cambridge to restore a famous Grade II* listed project by James Stirling, the 1981 Pritzker Prize winner. Arup is providing heritage, civil, structural, facade engineering, and access services.

Today, the pyramidal structure is known simply as the Stirling Building and is home to the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of History. The Stirling Building turned heads when finished in 1968. Reyner Banham reviewed in at length in The Architectural Review that same year.

John Summerson, an architectural historian, described it as “a redoubtable, daunting monument; enigmatic; a crystal fort with a shiny brick rampart; something of a factory; something of a conservatory.”

the atrium with glass block ceiling and circular desks
Atrium at Stirling Building (Courtesy BDP)

BDP has been entrusted with the refurbishment of other important heritage projects in the U.K., most notably that of the Palace of Westminster. The British office is now slated to restore and improve the Stirling Building’s accessibility, safety, and comfort with the same level of care and attention. It will also provide a range of new learning and working environments in the center of Cambridge’s Sidgwick site.

Upon the refurbishment’s completion, the Stirling Building will provide step-free access: External terraces, study areas, and circulation corridors will be seamlessly accessible for all users.

BDP and Arup have also designed two new pavilions attached to the building. These additions will provide additional library and reading spaces. The new elements, designers said, respond to the existing 1968 structure by clearly expressing their function and in their scale, form, and materials.

exterior rendering of Stirling Building showing building and new pavilions
Rendering of new addition for Stirling Building (Courtesy BDP)
interior rendering of Stirling Building restoration
Interior rendering of addition (Courtesy BDP)

At the Stirling Building, BDP will safeguard its use and enjoyment, designers said in a statement, and repair and upgrade its services to improve thermal comfort. Carbon saving strategies and climate resilience measures will also be employed.

“We recognise that the Stirling Building is a landmark in the history and development of architecture and needs to be treated as such,” said Jessica Malley, an architect and director at BDP. “It has a remarkable formal inventiveness, synthesising strands of British architectural traditions with the visual culture of the early twentieth century. Stirling understood that buildings can carry a philosophical meaning: the design symbolises a community of students and teachers with knowledge, represented by the library, at its physical and symbolic heart.”

Malley continued: “Our approach is faithful to the building diagram with the emblematic nature of the architecture as the focal point of the restored building. The work will include some adaptation to the more communal areas of the building to create flexible and inspiring spaces, responsive to the University’s ever-changing requirements, while respecting and responding to Stirling’s stylistic language.”

Construction will start in 2025.

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