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11 May, 2020 - 16:05 By Kate Sweeney

Students advise Jesus College on estate sustainability upgrade

Students from the MSt Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment course run by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership have been working with Jesus College in 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 already implemented a number of initiatives including solar thermal panels, a ground source heat pump and LED lighting. The catering team is growing the sustainable food offering, reducing the volume of ruminant meat used and working with the students at finding ways of minimising food waste. 

The student community encourages behavioural change via their ‘Sustainability A to Z students’ guide’ and college leaders are actively 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, 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 six 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

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, a practising architect from Hong Kong, added: “I hope to set a good example of how we can bring a sustainable redevelopment, while preserving the heritage value of the architecture.”

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 suggested that the key pillars of design should be power, waste, transportation, water and people and suggested possible elements of a road map towards achieving the ambitious goals of the College.

Two 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.

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 nine 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 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.

One radical approach could involve encapsulating the terraces in a larger glass house to promote a fully tempered climate, and to preserve the existing historic fabric with minimal direct interventions.

Constructed 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. A number of CleanTech solutions have been proposed. 


Athena Chau

The Quincentenary 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 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. 

The college is currently developing its Sustainability Strategy with the engagement and collaboration of students and Fellows and the wider university community. 

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