Opening Entopia

the exterior of the Entopia Building, a four-storey sandstone-coloured building, on a a sunny day.

Life often combines disparate events, and last week I experienced choking, meeting royalty, and building design for the climate emergency, all in a single event. This all happened at the Entopia building, the newly refurbished Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) building.

Initially built in the 1930s as a telephone exchange, the Entopia building has been refurbished as offices for CISL, and will act as an incubator for startups working to address the climate emergency. The project has fantastic ambition, targeting EnerPHit (the Passivhaus standard for refurbishment), BREEAM Outstanding, and WELL Gold standards, with additional emphasis on the circular economy, use of bio-based materials, and embodied carbon. Max Fordham is part of the main contractor's delivery team, covering Passivhaus, MEP, moisture modelling, and acoustics.

March 31st marked the official launch of the Entopia Building, with a visit by Prince Charles. Early in the event, before his arrival, Clare Shine, Director and CEO of CISL, spoke briefly about the building and it's context, both as a project, and the facilities it would provide for CISL and startups. Towards the end of any project the focus on delivery tends to pull us towards the detail, so it was great to have a reminder of the overall scope and reach of the project.

We had a few minutes to chat before the Prince's arrival, which gave me the opportunity both to look again at elements of the design with one of the architects, and chat with an entrepreneur working in the exciting field of demand management. We were near the windows, which are a microcosm of the whole project: they appear simple, but there is a lot of design and construction work behind them. They sit in line with the internal insulation to limit thermal bridging, oversail the structural opening to maximise daylight, and the reveal details help bring as much daylight into the building as possible. 

A press part in the foyer of Entopia. Guests in formal dress stand in groups chatting and smiling.

© Max Fordham LLP

The choice of single large panes involved a number of discussions with the planners, and exemplifies the client and project team making the effort to do what was right for the project, rather than taking the easy road. As part of the delivery team Max Fordham helped develop the design, including accommodating challenges in the internal structure that only became apparent during stripping out works. I like the outside appearance of the refurbished building, giving it a contemporary feel without being showy.

Part-way through the chat I inhaled one of the tasty appetisers and spent the next few minutes intermittently coughing, and wondering whether my brush with royalty would be marred by my exhibiting covid-like symptoms. Thankfully the moment passed, and I was able to join a brief discussion with the Prince about re-claimed raised access floors, cellulose ceiling treatments, and plant-based chairs.

A woman in a red blazer speaks to Prince Charles in the reception area of Entopia.

© University of Cambridge

Once the royal visit part of the event was over, one of the architects and I had a quick wander through the building, and were particularly struck on the upper floors by both the quality and quantity of daylight coming in to the space, and the quality and quantity of noise that wasn't coming in. Although the building is immediately adjacent to a busy main road, the combination of solid masonry, internal linings, airtightness treatment, and triple-glazed high-performance windows all combine to reduce traffic noise to a whisper.

After a brief chat with the team I returned to the office, excited about the project, and looking forward to finding ways to apply the lessons learnt to other buildings. As the banner on the hoarding says: "This is not an ordinary project. But it needs to be".