Cowan Court at Churchill College review – a treehouse in the dreaming spires

By Oliver Wainwright

Churchill College already has some of Cambridge University's most unusual buildings – and 6a Architects' new accommodation block adapts its brutalism to create a sylvan utopia

When the cracked wooden floorboards of an old French goods train were prised from their carriages, black with oily grime from years of use, little can anyone have imagined that they would end up adorning the facade of a Cambridge college. But then the brutalist brick courts of Churchill aren't your usual precious medieval cloisters. Nor are the architects of its new accommodation block the kind to defer to the received wisdom of what an Oxbridge building should be.

“Eyebrows were raised when we first suggested it,” says Tom Emerson, director of 6a Architects, gesturing at the scarred, blackened oak that now adorns the walls of the college's £10m new Cowan Court. “But when the dons realised this would be a first, they really got on board.”

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