Combined Colleges Boathouse - RHP

The combined Cambridge Colleges of King’s, Selwyn and Churchill, together with the Leys School, commissioned RHP to replace their existing 60s boathouse – which had an industrial aesthetic and lacked the appeal and character of other boathouses along the river. The existing building was in need of considerable repair and refurbishment in order for the facilities to meet latest standards. The Local Authority’s Conservation Area townscape analysis identified the facility as a ‘building that detracts’ from the character of the area.


RHP’s new development not only provided a much-needed accommodation upgrade for the clubs, locating the majority of the accommodation, on the upper floor out of the flood plain, but also presented an opportunity to positively contribute to, and enhance, the character of the area.


Incorporating traditional materials with crisp detailing, the resulting appearance is an elegant composition of a lighter upper floor sitting over a robust solid base. The design presents a fresh, contemporary image with a familiar scale that resonates with existing Cambridge boathouse typology.


The expressed ridge and balcony lines, together with solar shading elements provide a floating horizontal emphasis reflecting the proportions of slender rowing boats. The deeper corner balcony area and roof overhang are supported by an expressed column with reference to blades and boat riggers.

Working with the glass artist Kate Maestri, the glazed balustrade incorporates an artwork design in response to the pattern and rhythm of rowing blades when completing a stroke.

The main exposed galvanised steel elements (disregarding landscape furniture) comprise:

  • Beam (rectangular hollow section (RHS)) to leading edge of balcony;
  • Columns (RHSs) along length of balcony (supporting roof structure over);
  • Prongs of the feature ‘Y’ column and the circular hollow section (CHS) at ground floor level below;
  • RHS ‘strings’ to external staircase;
  • Downstand smoke baffles to balcony soffit (located at column centres)
  • Reveal plates, to close off masonry cavities, at the 5no boatbay door openings.


Galvanising was selected for robustness, and to minimise ongoing maintenance. It also resulted in a coherent ‘architectural language’, with significant structural elements being visually expressed.

Images © Andrew Hatfield