Trinity College New Court, University of Cambridge

Our careful, rigorous strategy drastically reduced the energy consumption of this Grade I-listed building, and set a benchmark for the sympathetic low-energy refurbishment of historic college buildings.

The exterior of New Court at Trinity College, Cambridge, showing stone, crenelated buildings on one side of a central court planted with mature trees

Key information


5th Studio


Trinity College, University of Cambridge



Year of Completion




New Court at Trinity College in Cambridge is an impressive 200-year-old Grade I-listed building, neighbouring the world famous Wren Library on the River Cam.

The building forms three sides of a quadrangle and is home to 169 student study bedrooms arranged around 13 traditional staircases. When we were commissioned in 2010, the accommodation was still functioning but little had improved since the building was completed in 1825. The expectations of today’s students, in terms of quality and comfort, are unrecognisable from the time it was constructed.

Collaborating once again with 5th Studio, our challenging environmental strategy for this groundbreaking project successfully reduced energy consumption by 75% and carbon emissions by 88%. We improved and upgraded environmental performance, energy consumption and operation of building services installations.

Ensuring that a building can remain in use and fit for purpose, centuries after it was originally built, is the best way to align heritage value and practical sustainability. However, this came with significant technical challenges and our project at New Court is the first Grade I-listed building to have its 200-year-old masonry walls insulated. 

Our aim was to approach Passivhaus energy performance standards and we successfully set an industry benchmark for sympathetic low-energy refurbishment of our historic building stock.

Client collaberation

A crucial aspect of our brief was to collaborate with Trinity College’s in-house maintenance team. This enabled us to specify new services that meet their demanding standards for easy accessibility for routine maintenance, and to allow for adaptation in the future. We worked closely with the client team from feasibility through delivery and into occupation to ensure that every improvement and upgrade was achievable, proportionate and effective.

While the benefits of reduced heating demand and comfort are clear, the rigour required to assess the risk associated with the required interventions were less obvious. Our design team undertook a full review of energy use in the existing New Court buildings to inform the refurbishment design and quantify the effectiveness of the proposed improvements. 

Our proposals included dramatic improvement in thermal performance and air-tightness of the external building fabric by the addition of an internal insulated lining. This also provides an accessible cavity that hides new mechanical and electrical services. We carried out extensive computational moisture modelling to validate this method and materials of construction. 

75% reduction in energy consumption

200 year old building

88% reduction in carbon emissions

2022 Architecture Today Awards Editor's Award