Abode Housing

This case study shows a carefully designed neighbourhood aiming to accommodate high densities by creating a series of spaces and housing types that respond to the site and surroundings.

Location: Great Kneighton, Cambridge


Abode at Great Kneighton is a flagship development for Cambridge City Council located in a suburb of Cambridge. It is recognised as a good model for new edge of settlement neighbourhood expansion strategies. The neighbourhood has been carefully designed to accommodate high densities by creating a series of spaces and housing types that respond to the site and surroundings. The 306 homes form the first phase of a wider development, which will eventually provide around 2,300 new homes, as well as new schools, healthcare facilities, shops and transport links. This is the first major growth site in Cambridge for a long time. The homes at Abode were completed in 2014 and are located close to community, transport, educational and work facilities.#

In terms of design, the challenge for the architects was to deliver modern sustainable homes, whilst remaining sensitive to the local environment and architectural forms of historic Cambridge. The design process therefore involved detailed research, local understanding and design flexibility. As a result this development has been designed with the use of materials and layouts carefully responding to the immediate and surrounding context. (2)

Project details

The scheme is mixed tenure and tenure blind, and the housing has been designed to cater for a range of different needs with a range of housing typologies in different sizes, from 4 bedroom homes to studio flats. The development brief called for a design, which would challenge conventional densities and deliver 40% affordable housing, with a split of 40% apartments and 60% family houses across the new neighbourhood.

The housing layouts are carefully combined to accommodate the range of house sizes and the affordable housing is at a density of approximately 47 dwellings per hectare (dph) with a predominance of family accommodation. This required the careful design of dwelling layouts and clusters including 3-bedroom maisonettes with 1 and 2-bedroom apartments above. According to Proctor and Matthews Architects, “This innovative sectional arrangement helped to deliver the required number of affordable units without resorting to a predominance of smaller units.”

The affordable housing is spread evenly across the site in clusters of 4 to 25 units and all the homes are built to the same standard. A representative from the architects commented, “There is no architectural distinction between units for rent, shared ownership or private sale or in the treatment of the public realm. Through the selection of the same materials detail, scale and colour, across tenures, ‘tenure blindness’ became imbedded in the unique character of the place.”

These constraints also necessitated the design of new dwelling typologies with smaller footprints arranged in clusters, which challenged the conventional layouts. This also required a careful reappraisal of recommended back-to-back distances as outline in the local authority’s Planning Guidance and a reassessment of marketing/sales advice in terms of conventional garden and private amenity space requirements.

One of the main challenges of the project was to create a gateway to the wider Great Kneighton and to deliver a scheme that had a strong identity and sense of place: “High quality public realm was a key objective. In the mews streets zone, a series of parallel green connecting corridors create pleasant shared spaces and pedestrian routes, and also provide linear routes from the formal Great Court to open countryside.” (1)

The 6.4-hectare site was designed as a sequence of spaces, moving from an urban to rural scale, as the homes get closer to the surrounding countryside. It begins with terraces of townhouses and apartments at the entrance, followed by rows of mews homes in the middle of the site, and then individual houses at the edge of the development.

Key Details


The project cost £45 million.

Who are the key stakeholders involved?

• Architects – Proctor and Matthews Architects
• Developer – Countryside Properties plc.
• Structural Engineer – Ramboll UK
• Landscape Architecture – BBUK
• Cambridge City Council

Countryside Properties prepared a Masterplan for Great Kneighton whilst the Abode site was masterplanned by Proctor and Matthews.

Collaboration with local authorities

One of the successes of this project is the close working relationship with the local council. For this project, close collaboration and considerable dialogue was held with City Council & Cambridge County Council and the project architects. This involved discussions with: Joint Growth Development Control team; Highways Officers; Sustainability Officer; Urban Design Officers; Landscape Officers; Housing Officers; Refuse Officers & Environmental Health Officers.

According to a council officer: “Cambridge City Council have worked with Proctor and Matthews Architects on a number of projects within Cambridge. They bring a very collaborative, solution-focused approach to their work resulting in effective and high quality design both on plan and built on site. This is exactly how the City Council officers like to work through site planning and design stages. The award-winning design results from the hands of these architects now being built on site in Cambridge is a testament to their intelligent approach to working through design issues at all stages.”

The design of the new neighbourhood required both careful and intensive negotiations with the local authority highways agency, Statutory Authorities and Fire Brigade, to ensure the design of a fully integrated shared space environment as the central idea behind the configuration of the public realm. The careful attention to detail in this regard led to the success of the neighbourhood spaces, but in many developments, this is often neglected, resulting in the delivery of inappropriate conventional and generic solutions.

The incorporation of car parking, bicycle storage and refuse collection was also central to the design of the neighbourhood. Where possible the new homes were designed with on-plot discrete parking minimising the visual impact of street parking within the streetscape. Similarly, extensive negotiations with Local Authority Planning, Highways and Environmental Health officers took place to ensure that cycle storage and refuse storage facilities did not again dominate the street scene and were incorporated/hidden within private amenity spaces. This involved challenging current LA guidance and recommendations.

So what?


According to Proctor and Matthews Architects this project has shown that, “through a careful contextual analysis, the creation of a strong neighbourhood narrative, the careful design of dwelling typologies to suite specific locations and an attention to the detail design and materiality, that a new neighbourhood can be delivered which has a strong identity and sense of place.”

They added, “residents have openly commented on the quality of the internal planning of the homes, the material and textural qualities of the contemporary architecture and the sequence of public realm spaces that unite the neighbourhood.”

What are the risks and challenges for initiating and also maintaining this initiative?

According to the architects, “The main challenge in creating a development like this is creating a real ‘place’ within a volume housing context…We wanted to show that it was possible to create variety, a sense of identity and a richness of character with a limited palette – something which we hope other volume designers and house builders might take note of”. (3)

Key learning

One of the architects commented: “There is no difference in terms of design, volume or quality between any type of the housing on the site…for us, that is critical in creating a successful community”. (3)

Distinctive characters were created within the neighbourhood. This was not achieved merely by changing the materials across the development but included a considered change of dwelling types, cluster configurations and general grain of development in response to the immediate context of each part of the neighbourhood. According to the architects, “Good domestic architecture is created by a thoughtful attention to detail and not a formulaic response to elements such as dwelling entrances, public/private realm thresholds, roof configurations etc. This development demonstrates that a focussed attention to these often-neglected areas of domestic design can create new homes that have a strong identity and character”.

Source/s of information:

1. Abode at Great Kneighton / Proctor and Matthews Architects; https://www.archdaily.com/769800/abode-at-great-kneighton-proctor-and-matthews-architects
2. Adobe, Cambridge; https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/DC%20CABE%20HOUSING%20CASE%20STUDY_2_ABODE_310316%20FINAL.pdf
3. Chequered brickwork brings unity to a Cambridge housing community by Proctor and Matthews; https://www.dezeen.com/2015/07/03/abode-great-kneighton-proctor-matthews-architects-features-chequerboard-brickwork-housing-cambridge-england/
4. Case study: How urban-style housing was achieved in a suburban location; https://www.placemakingresource.com/article/1350885/case-study-urban-style-housing-achieved-suburban-location
5. Abode at Great Kneighton, Cambridge, Abode delivers a unique sense of place for the gateway quarter at Great Kneighton; https://www.proctorandmatthews.com/project/abode-great-kneighton-cambridge