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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

The Quincentenary Library at Jesus College

6 May 2020 – Students from the MSt Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) course run by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) have been working with Jesus College Cambridge to consider how to manage its historic estate to achieve ambitious sustainability targets for the future.

One of the areas of focus for IDBE students is ‘Heritage Environments’, looking at the social, environmental and economic value of heritage properties and the challenge of retrofit. Jesus College provides an ideal example of these opportunities and challenges. Established in 1496, its estate includes examples of architecture from the 12th to the 21st centuries. Many of the properties contribute to the rich heritage of the city and are listed as Grade I and Grade II.

Jesus College aims to be recognised globally as a leading academic institution where sustainability is intrinsic through engagement, collaboration and innovation. It has implemented initiatives including solar thermal panels, a ground source heat pump and LED lighting. The catering team is growing sustainable food, reducing the volume of ruminant meat used and working with the students to find ways to minimise food waste. The student community encourages behavioural change via their ‘Sustainability A to Z students’ guide’ and College leaders are involved in a number of environmental committees within the University of Cambridge. 

Kayla Friedman, IDBE Course Director said:

“Jesus College represented a fantastic opportunity for our students to explore the possibilities for investment across an interesting portfolio of properties. It may cost more upfront to make significant changes to windows, walls, heating and lighting systems but these changes are worthwhile when you look at the savings made over 50 years. The College was very receptive to our suggestions and our students will be interested in following its progress towards its sustainable goals for the future.”

Domestic Bursar, Stuart Websdale welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with CISL and the IDBE. He worked with the students by providing the history and background details of the project sites and he outlined the College’s new sustainability strategy. The students, who are all part-time professionals from across different built environment disciplines, split into 6 teams to work on different types of projects owned by the College. Initially, they planned to spend every afternoon for a week on site during their residential week in Cambridge. Due to Covid-19 however, the project became a virtual one and all research and feedback was provided in digital formats.

Amna Bin Thaneya is a Development Architect at Joint Ventures and is studying for an MSt in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment at CISL. She said:

"Hopefully, the work will set a benchmark for all students on the importance of utilising sustainable and energy conscience solutions into any development whether in retrofit projects or new construction."

Athena Chau is a practicing architect from Hong Kong. She said:

“I hope to set a good example of how we can bring a sustainable redevelopment, while preserving the heritage value of the architecture.”

Stuart Websdale, Domestic Bursar at Jesus College, said:

“We were delighted to welcome involvement from CISL students in our plans to become more sustainable in the future. They understood the challenges and opportunities of making improvements to our older buildings, and they came up with some innovative suggestions, many of which we will incorporate into our renovation plans. This project is one of many initiatives at Jesus College to develop our Sustainability Strategy through engagement, collaboration and innovation.”


Student proposals by project

The Estate Strategy

One student team looked at the overall framework to Jesus College becoming net carbon zero across the estate. They recognised that achieving sustainability goals would mean setting clear abiding principles to guide all College projects, and embedding a new culture throughout the College to change behaviour. They outlined the overriding project principles of heritage preservation, long-term thinking, College culture, information management, stakeholder engagement and working in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They suggested that the key pillars of design should be power, waste, transportation, water and people and they suggested possible elements of a road map towards achieving the ambitious goals of the College.

Jesus Lane

Jesus Lane proposalTwo example residential properties on Jesus Lane are Grade II listed, two-storey residential buildings containing 12 student bedrooms in total. The team made proposals aiming to maintain the heritage value and charm of the properties, while upgrading their sustainability performance to work towards the aim of becoming net carbon zero. Their suggestions included installing cavity walls to improve thermal and acoustic performance, replacing the existing boiler with a ground source heat pump and building management system and introducing renewable energy using photovoltaic panels, a wind turbine generator for a garden lamppost and an electric bicycle charging point for the community.

Elm Street Living

Elm Street Living is a new development proposed to be built on a site currently used for garages, within Kite Street Conservation Area in the historic centre of Cambridge. It is proposed that 9 new homes (3 x 1 bedroom and 6 x 2 bedroom) could be built from recycled materials to a high standard of sustainable living with net carbon zero emissions. They would include courtyard gardens, cycling storage and communal spaces and would be designed to complement the existing architecture of the local area. The students looked at key principles that could be used when designing new buildings within existing historic contexts. As part of the exercise, the students were not privy to existing proposals that have been developed for the site.

19-44 Lower Park Street

Park streetThe properties of 19-44 Lower Park Street are currently used for postgraduate family accommodation. Early 19th century, Grade II listed terraces, they are small and inefficient with energy usage, but their design adds to the value and charm of the central conservation area of Cambridge. The team of students suggested a number of ways and options that could be considered to improve energy performance, while respecting the historic character of the buildings, including improvements to insulation, shared living spaces to maximise use of space, for example shared kitchens, outdoor courtyards or allotment areas and a basement beneath the existing houses that could allow ground source heating and provide extra living space.

The Waterhouse Building

WaterhousediagramConstructed in the Tudor style in 1869-70, the Waterhouse Building was originally designed by Alfred Waterhouse for student accommodation during a time of huge expansion for the College. This demand for accommodation is now met elsewhere on the estate, freeing the building for possible development into a contemporary and energy efficient workspace for administrative staff. The team recommended opening up the internal floor plate through the use of archways to provide a more open plan feel, whilst preserving the external character of the building. They also proposed the construction of an external lift shaft to enable disabled access to the upper floors of the building, in keeping with the design of the building. The lift shaft would be made from sustainable CLT material, and the lift itself will incorporate energy recovery technology. 

The Quincentenary Library

Quincentenary libraryQuincentenary Library occupies a site that was formerly the kitchen garden of the Master's Lodge. It was designed by architects Eldred Evans and David Shalev, and was officially opened by the Queen in March 1996 to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the foundation of Jesus College. The team suggested ways to improve the thermal comfort of the building, whilst working towards net zero emissions and enhancing biodiversity, including: Upgrades to the Library entrance and doors, Ventilation improvements involving checking the integrity of roof vents and repairing as necessary, upgrading the motors and switching from battery to mains power and installing solar panels on the roof.

Read more about the IDBE student's work with Jesus college.

Find out more about the IDBE

The Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) part-time, post-graduate programmes for built environment professionals are offered by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and supported by the Departments of Architecture and Engineering.

The IDBE is truly interdisciplinary, in the background of its staff, students and areas it covers. The programmes are structured around emerging trends, opportunities, and challenges within the built environment such as: sustainability and resilience, health and well-being, energy, efficiency, conservation and heritage, stakeholder engagement, and political and regulatory landscapes.

The learning approach is highly interactive and designed to encourage reflection and debate. A key feature of the programme is the collaborative learning experience. The programme facilitates shared learning between peers, and networking with the extensive range of contributors, together providing a rich learning environment. 

Applications for the 2021 Sustainability Leadership for the Built Environment (IDBE) close 31 May.

Find out more about the course and how to apply.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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