North West Cambridge Masterplan

North West Cambridge Masterplan

Cambridge, United Kingdom
Project Year


North West Cambridge Masterplan

AECOM as Architects

Securing the University’s future in an ever competitive world

The vision for Northwest Cambridge is to create a new district and extension to the city, centred on a mixed academic and urban community. It will be a place that is sustainable, long-lasting and ambitious, offering a high quality life to enhance both the city and University of Cambridge. It will accommodate growth in the University and related research and post-graduate facilities, attract and retain staff for these, and relieve pressures on Cambridge’s housing market.

Addressing the University’s future needs

As one of the world’s leading and oldest research universities, this project for the University of Cambridge uses design, architecture and planning to advance its role in leading the future of the knowledge-based economy. The University needs new affordable housing for key workers, new spaces and facilities for the growth of colleges and graduate students; it also needs to anchor new academic and partner research, whether companies or related organisations that make up the growing Cambridge research cluster, one of Europe’s most important centres for scientific knowledge and industry. In this project, the University has a proactive role as the landowner and master developer of the site. This offers a unique opportunity to engage with the city of Cambridge throughout the process to deliver the four big drivers for the masterplan: connectivity, community, character and climate.

Planning permission for the masterplan was granted in 2013 and the first phase of the extension is underway. It will provide up to 1,500 homes for staff, 1,500 affordable private homes, accommodation for 2,000 post-graduates, 100,000 sq m of academic and research space, a primary school, community centre, a hotel, care home, sports centre, playing fields and sustainable transport including a cycle network.

Our design builds upon the richly layered, collegiate urbanism that has grown up in Cambridge, creating two new college clusters, walkable neighbourhoods, generous public realm, research and lab areas in what is the single largest capital development the University has undertaken in its 800 year history.


Central to the project is provision for more cycling and walking with an extensive pedestrian and cycle network, public transport through the heart of the development to connect to the wider city and University community, and the development is tightly integrated with the existing urban fabric.


The masterplan creates new residential neighbourhoods by ensuring there will be adequate social infrastructure, open spaces and public amenity, urban park and landscape, and the setting up of a community trust to govern these. This progressive planning move will put these assets firmly in the hands of those who use them. The large Western Edge parkland provides a rich and naturalistic landscape for community use while also being a buffer between city and countryside.


While Northwest Cambridge is a collection of new places and spaces, it builds upon what has worked so well here for centuries in terms of its urban form in what will be a natural extension of a university-orientated urbanism. Its character is created via the appropriate balance between the use of materials, technology and nature, scale and massing, and the distribution of uses.


The project is designed to the highest possible standards under the University’s long term commitment to mitigate climate change with strict environmental performance metrics hard-wired into the masterplan. The project also attempts to relieve climate change impacts at an urban scale by incorporating a sitewide sustainable urban drainage network and storm and grey water recycling facilities within the landscape of the Western Edge. There is a natural balance between ecological reinforcement and new building.

On the ground today in Cambridge: the first phase

Connectivity goals for the masterplan will be underpinned through a comprehensive pedestrian, cycle and public transport network. These along with other key connections are being seamlessly linked to the wider Cambridge community and University.

Community is achieved through creating a place that will allow for the art of daily life, all the components that we use in our day-to-day in one place: study and work, culture and leisure, urbanity and nature. Key community facilities such as shops, food stores, a community centre, a nursery, and a University operated primary school with teacher training, sport fields and parklands will help to achieve the sense of community from the outset.

Character forms a substantial part of the story of the first phase. We have engaged up to 20 renowned architects and landscape architects, using this project as a platform for them to contribute to Cambridge’s unique landscape. They are working with the masterplanner and the University to craft the local urban centre for Northwest Cambridge to create a diverse yet coherent character for an authentic new place.

Climate considerations are achieved through an infrastructure that will facilitate very low carbon living and working. All new homes are built according to the UK’s Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5 with very high performance environmental requirements, including district heating and 20% on-site renewable energy generation and a city scale water recycling system. This first phase will also be home to the largest photovoltaic (PV) array in the UK. The Western Edge parklands further support ecological enhancement, carefully balancing urban and natural conditions.

The next generation University community: looking to the future

Looking forward, the project is expected to complete around 2030, which will see another 15-20 years of University expansion and consolidation, improving technology and physical sciences, and the expansion of academic and partner research clusters. As the masterplan comes alive in the coming years and decades, one of the world’s most beautiful urban settings will continue to be a world centre for research and inquiry. The foundations are firmly in place for this UNESCO-listed town centre and iconic university to grow sustainably well into the centuries ahead.

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