About 'Hideous Cambridge'

This book sets out one resident’s view of the sweeping changes that are transforming Cambridge’s cityscape. Drawing on a lifelong interest in architecture and the built environment, author David Jones puts forward an intelligent and informed critique of the direction in which these changes are taking the city, and the impact they are having on the lives of ordinary people.

The new Cambridge? Architecturally challenged apartment blocks on Rustat Avenue.

David argues that the wealth created by the University’s knowledge-based industries has resulted in Cambridge being overrun by construction companies throwing up huge developments in the expectation of huge profits. Often ugly, overbearing and out of keeping with pre-existing buildings, these developments are damaging the city’s unique character. Wherever they go up, population density rises, traffic congestion increases, and the quality of life for residents is degraded. Meanwhile, the legitimate concerns of local people are brushed aside by developers, and city council officials appear unwilling or unable to control the stampede of construction.

Metropolitan chic comes with metropolitan density of accommodation at Kaleidoscope.

If such growth continues unchecked, he writes, Cambridge may well expand to the size of Birmingham as it swallows up surrounding villages and merges with new and projected settlements such as Cambourne and Northstowe. Already parts of the city are starting to resemble a metropolis; in the area by the railway, seven- and eight-storey apartment blocks have sprung up around Station Place, while the massive developments of the Belvedere, The Marque and Kaleidoscope possess dimensions, and a density of accommodation, more suited to the conurbations of Tokyo, Mumbai or Mexico City than a medium-sized English university town.

And with all these new residential developments the accent is on luxury and privilege. Unsurprisingly, developers are targeting commuters on London salaries, despite the fact that for ‘ordinary’ local people there is a housing crisis, with little ‘affordable’ or social housing available, and more than 8,000 families on the council’s waiting list for rented accommodation.

As these developments grow larger and taller, the damage to the city’s visual appeal becomes more inescapable. Parker’s Piece has been spoiled by the ten-storey tower of Parkside Place, while the view across Jesus Green is marred by the eight-storey Varsity Hotel and Spa.

Parkside Place towering over Parker's Piece

Parkside Place towering over Parker's Piece.

Cambridge’s world-famous architectural landscape is being ruined, writes David, and if this continues, residents will find themselves living in just another soulless city, while international tourists will wonder why they ever bothered to visit it in the first place. His question to the reader is simple: are we encouraging architecture that builds on continuity with the past – architecture worthy of our unique town – or allowing the construction of buildings that refer to nothing local, look like nothing on Earth, and benefit only their builders?

In addition to contemporary architectural disasters, he examines those of the past: the Arup building on the New Museums site, Christ’s College’s New Court, Queens’ College’s Cripps and Lyon Courts, and civic catastrophes such as Lion Yard and the Grafton Centre, for which whole tracts of old Cambridge were levelled. Alongside these mistakes, he also considers successful modern Cambridge buildings that not only do the job they are meant to, but also express their architects’ imagination, intelligence, and belief in beauty as an essential part of design.

Brutalism on the Backs - Lyon Court, Queens' College, just a few yards from King's Chapel.

David’s text is illustrated by over 400 colour photographs, most taken by Cambridge photographer Ellis Hall, who spent over two years amassing material for the project and documenting the changes to the fabric of the city.

'HIdeous Cambridge' is outspoken, uncompromising, informative and witty. It is also passionately committed to the idea of preserving Cambridge as a place of architectural excellence. Its concluding chapter is entitled ‘Why We Should Care’. After reading it, you’ll know exactly why, and you will find yourself looking at the buildings around you with more attention, engagement and appreciation than you ever did before.

See inside the book here.
Buy it here.