Walters & Cohen Architects

In 2014 Walters & Cohen won an invited competition to design a new building for Newnham

College, Cambridge. Our team was led by Cindy Walters, who founded the practice with

Michál Cohen in 1994. Having completed day nurseries, primary and secondary schools,

taking on a Higher Education project was a natural segue. Newnham had no agenda in

appointing a female-led team and chose us because they liked our previous work and our

ideas for working within this very challenging and sensitive historic environment. In

collaboration with the College’s project team, special interest groups, students, staff and

Fellows, we ensured that the building meets their needs and is entirely unique to them.

The Dorothy Garrod Building comprises a Porters’ Lodge, conference facilities, rooftop gym,

staff offices, meeting rooms, 86 en-suite student bedrooms, generous kitchen/social areas to

cook and eat together, and ‘the coolest café in Cambridge’ (according to Newnhamites!)

where students socialise and work in the heart of the College. It is also significant that for the

first time in 100 years, Newnham has a new civic entrance befitting an Oxbridge college.

The main challenges were getting the design right, and then building it in the middle of a

fully-functioning College. Both were approached with intelligent consultation, communication

and collaboration. Walters & Cohen was a good match for an unusually large – and

unusually committed – client body: as skilled architects, we are the experts in making good

buildings, but it’s our clients who are the experts in their field of business, and know how

their new building needs to work. Newnham were quick to understand how our design ideas

gave them even more than they asked for, and together we created ‘a building worthy of

celebration’ (Dame Carol Black, then Principal of Newnham College).

Dr Judy Quinn of Newnham said: ‘Listening to and discussing design ideas with different

constituents of the College community was the hallmark of Walters & Cohen’s approach and

their endless patience in explaining the potential offered by the design the secret to the

success of the project.’

Landscape works are integral to the design: the building wraps around a new courtyard

garden, with interstitial spaces improving visual and physical links between buildings. During

the competition we proposed appointing Brita Schoenaich of Bradley-Hole Schoenaich

Landscape. The working relationship between Brita and Lottie Collis, Newnham’s Head

Gardener, has resulted in beautiful gardens that are easily accessed and can be viewed

from the building’s generous windows. Newnham’s gardens are a welcome haven from

rigorous academic life.

We’ve also given staff – academic, pastoral and housekeeping – an uplifting working

environment. Harriet Truscott, Director of Communications at Newnham, said: ‘we wanted …

a more collaborative way for staff to work, and it’s absolutely succeeded in that. [We have]

windows looking onto shared spaces, we work with our doors open; it’s a wonderful sense

that people are collaborating, listening, supporting and helping each other.’

The project was completed in December 2018, on time and on budget, and has since won a

number of awards.

Cindy Walters, Director – project lead. The building would not be the success it is without Cindy’s leadership, from competition bid to handover. Her involvement from the macro scale of the masterplan to decisions on the fixtures, fittings and signage gave the project coherence and ensured a shared vision.

Rob Hill, Associate Director – project architect. Rob’s good humour and level-headedness earned the respect of the whole team on site: he ‘cut through the noise’ to find solutions by listening, absorbing and giving considered responses that played to people’s strengths and inspired a common purpose – an enviable achievement that Rob made look easy. As a result, this is a building of remarkable elegance and craftsmanship.

Nichola Finch, Associate – project architect. Nichola was a newly qualified architect when we entered this competition, having achieved a Distinction in her Part 3. She put her all into the competition bid and worked tirelessly on every aspect of the project for the next four years. Nichola takes great pride in her work, inspiring the design team to aim high too. This shows in the quality and detail of the building.

Nichola and Rob shared the project architect role, handling decisions and queries at design stage and on site.

Michál Cohen, Director: worked on the bid and concept design.

Lieve Smout, Architect: worked alongside Cindy, Rob and Nichola for two years.

Dr Lucy Keens, Administrative Associate: kept Cindy’s diary, wrote the competition bid and wrote or edited all significant documents associated with the project.

At various points the team included architects Marianne Zylstra, Saya Hakamata and Elena Garcia Gomez.

Bradley-Hole Schoenaich Landscape

Brita Schoenaich, Principal

Intrinsic to the project’s success is the landscape strategy devised by BHSL and the Newnham gardeners. Unusually for an Oxbridge College, there are views from the street to the gardens through a building that is outward-looking and welcoming. The close relationship between indoors and out, including the rooftop terrace, allows Newnhamites to appreciate their beautiful College from new perspectives.

The BHSL team included Magdalena Firganek-Fulcher, Elke Beller and Sara Rocha.

Newnham College

Lottie Collis, Head Gardener, formed a fruitful (and flower-ful) partnership with BHSL; see above.

Our wonderful client team are too numerous to mention, but particular thanks go to Professor Dame Carol Black, Wendy Evans, Dr Judy Quinn, Penny Hubbard, Professor Jenny Morton and architect and lecturer Benedicte Foo.


The College chose sculptor Cathy de Monchaux through an interview process and gave her full creative freedom. The artwork on public display at the entrance – a bronze ‘tower of books’ the height of the building – celebrates education and research.

Some more women who contributed to the success of this project are:

Jo October of Gleeds, Project Management

Aleksandra Przydrozna of Max Fordham, M+E Engineers

Georgia Rodgers of Max Fordham, Acoustic Engineers

Becky Armstrong of Eight Associates, BREEAM Consultants

Sara Tobalina del Val and Anna Sandgren of Nulty, Lighting Designers

Mara Isara of Ab Rogers Design, Interior Designers

Ann Freeman of SDC, Main Contractor