Clare College Old Court and River Cafe

To promote a wider understanding and appreciation of the construction industry

Photograph of the approach to Clare College Old Court Cafe

Best conservation/adaptation over £2m – Winner: Clare College Old Court and River Cafe 

In this category there was one winner and one commendation.


Client: Clare College, Cambridge

Architects: Witherford Watson Mann Architects

Project Manager & Cost Consultant: Henry Riley

Structural Engineers: Smith and Wallwork

Services & Acoustic Engineers: Max Fordham LLP

Landscape Architects: Liz Lake Associates

Fire Consultants: The Fire Surgery

Planning Consultant: Turley

Main Contractor: Barnes Construction

Timber Frame:  Constructional Timber

Image credit: Philip Vile

Judges Comments

“This project has been many years in the development and is part of Clare’s wider plans to restore Old Court as the heart of the College and provide places for the college community to mix.  The result is, remarkably, both understated and spectacular.  The discovery and use of previously unacknowledged spaces is both ingenious and admirable, creating a new riverside café and providing level access to many parts of the college that were previously inaccessible.  This whole project is in fact a remarkable achievement, since the space – a long exterior ‘edge’ of the college – had to be both created and curated, with immense architectural and practical complications including creating a temporary bridge over the Cam, excavation of the Master’s garden and the complete overhaul of what had been a messy service dumping ground. The result is stunning, elegant and beautiful, with every finish perfect.  We loved the beautiful new Purbeck stone floor and the craftsmanship of the new oak glulam structure (and the story of the small family business who made and fitted it) and admired the precision and intricacy of its design. Not only does it provide elegant corridor access to the River Room café, it also provides a beautiful new escape staircase for the attic floors and attractive access spaces on three levels.  From the Cam the café is appropriately modest, with a wooden pergola nestled against a restored brick facade.  The project is access friendly throughout, with a clever platform lift in Old Court dealing with one of the biggest access challenges.  The integration of catering ventilation in this spatially constrained and challenging site has been beautifully executed.  The primary structure has in effect led the architecture, and the care and attention to detail in both aspects is complementary.  The engineering outcome is, simply, a marvel.”