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Education Specified: St John’s College, Cambridge

With sympathetic materials and strong environmental credentials, MCW’s refurbish and replace project has given the college a new buttery and social space

Architect’s statement
Paula Mejia-Wright, associate, 
MCW Architects

The new St John’s College café, buttery dining room and bar provides a place at the heart of the Cambridge college where the community can meet, eat, drink and work in an inviting and relaxed atmosphere. 

The project involved refurbishment of the south west corner of the grade I-listed Second Court building, built in 1599, to provide a bar and café, along with the demolition and re-building of the buttery dining room, which was built in the 1970s. 

The most significant element in the scheme is the new glulam oak superstructure of the buttery dining room, replacing a steel-framed roof that in the 1970s was brutally built into the 16th century brickwork of the Second Court building and the boundary wall to Trinity College.

The dramatic curved, trapezoidal timber structure, formed of prefabricated components, is highly insulated and covered in oxidized copper, which will continue to change colour slowly over the years. The deep brown hue of the copper sits comfortably in the historic environment; its environmental credentials were the number one priority for the client. 

The terrace is a continuation of the traditional palette of college materials – York stone paving and black painted metalwork.
Oak is used as the unifying material for all the spaces: the dining room structure, floors, door, internal furniture, canopy ceiling, ramp handrail and external slatted screen. 

A living ‘green wall’, fed by collected rainwater, runs the whole length of the dining room, blurring the sense of inside and outside, and contributing to a sense of wellbeing. 


Gifa 612m2
Construction cost Confidential
Construction period 18 months
Contract type JCT Standard Building Contract


Client St John’s College, Cambridge 
Architect MCW Architects
Project manager Turner and Townsend
Cost consultant Faithful and Gould
Conservation architect/ heritage consultant Purcell
Fabric consultant Tobit Curteis
Structural engineer Smith and Wallwork
Lighting engineer Studio ZNA
M&E KJ Tait engineers
Acoustic Ramboll
Fire Affinity Fire Engineers
Principal designer MCW architects
Planning consultant Turley
Interior design Nissen Richards Studio



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