Elegant Student Housing, For Future Veterinarians On-Call At All Hours

The building stays context-sensitive with local materials and rich detailing.

At the Royal Veterinary College’s Hawkshead Campus, students learn by doing. A working farm, an equine hospital, and the 35-year-old Queen Mother Hospital for Animals provides around 20,000 case studies to students every year. And though it’s only a 15 minute train ride away from London, the campus looks and feels like the country.


Veterinary medicine, much like human medicine, happens at all hours. But finding appropriate housing for hundreds of students in rural Hertfordshire has always been a challenge. A few years ago, the school commissioned London architects Hawkins\Brown (yes, that’s a backslash) to build an £18m housing development for roughly 200 of its clinical students.

“We worked hard with the client to ensure that the scheme is appropriate to the students and the location,” explain the architects, who developed a low-rise masterplan that orients nine housing pavilions around shared courtyards–which to us, recall Jorn Utzon’s “cherry tree” community housing of the 1960s. “The spaces between the pavilions provide intimate courtyards that are already becoming popular with the students,” say the designers. A larger building holds community meeting areas and a dining hall.

At three- and four-stories, each pavilion is its own micro-community, containing two or three six-bedroom modules, grouped around a shared kitchen. The bathrooms, and the exterior staircases, were all prefabricated off-site. Each room has its own bay window, which is faceted on one side with operable ventilation screens. Solar arrays for water heating and a grey-water collection system qualify the development for a BREEAM “very good” rating.

In cladding the pavilions, Hawkins\Brown paid tribute to rural Hertfordshire by using Western Red Cedar timber and a Bronsgroen brick run. A collaboration with artist Nicky Hirst produced the aluminum siding, perforated with full and half-moon shapes to protect dormers on rainy days. The pre-fabricated circulation cores are lit from within at night, turning them into multi-hued lanterns.

Today, the development houses 205 advanced veterinary students, who are only a short distance from the busiest animal hospital in the country. It was named one of RIBA’s 50 Best New Buildings in the UK earlier this spring.

[Images courtesy of the architects]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.