Students lead on reburbishment of Club Room

Club Room refurbished by Fiona Gilsenan

Over the summer months, our beloved Club Room has been full of tools, builders and barricades as it underwent a complete upgrade for the first time in several decades. But unlike most other College refurbishments, this one was initiated — and creatively directed — by Wolfson students.

“For years WCSA had been trying to make this project happen,” says Max Mulvany (2016). “So this year, WCSA raised it again and I heard about it. Before we knew it the architecture students had taken over.” Max is referring to himself and fellow architecture students Simon Wallington and Matthew Fallowfield-Cooper. Along with law student and WCSA internal officer Andrew Brooke, they got the green light from the Bursar to come up with a new design, and set to work.

The purple padded wall was never a highlight of the previous decor.
The purple padded wall was never a highlight of the previous decor.

“We wanted to see one really good room come out of the College refurb,” says Max. “Our aim was not to completely change the feel or layout of the room, but to make everything feel a lot classier, with better materials. It’s a challenge because this space is used for everything. People eat in here, give talks in here. It’s a corridor, a social space, and it’s the bar.”

“We realised early on that it’s useless trying to evoke older interiors, and we should be true to the room itself, which is an example of early 1970s design (the room was built in 1970). We got archival photos and looked at what had changed during previous refurbs. There was a particularly disastrous one about 20 years ago, when the infamous purple padded wall was installed.”

The amazing thing was that Chris (Lawrence, the Bursar) said yes. Then the reality of it settled in later on and there were certain things we couldn’t have. But we got wood panelling. — Max Mulvany

Detail in the design

The new design repeats some of the existing architectural elements from elsewhere in the College’s buildings. The wood panelling on the wall closest to the Porters’ Lodge, for instance, is a close replica of the panelling in the Council Room, with recessed vertical brass bands that subtly reflect the light from the numerous table and floor lamps.

The wall also houses cupboards for the sound system, and a trophy case, now displaying the President’s IX cup for the annual cricket match (captained, incidentally, by the Bursar), the stuffed wolf mascot from the 2016–2017 University Challenge team, the three trophies won by last year’s football team, and the Pegasus and Michell Cups won by the Boat Club at May Bumps.

The President’s IX Cup for all to admire.
The President’s IX Cup for all to admire.

Creating social space

Certain limitations were imposed by the shape of the original structure. Says. Max, “It’s a very bad room in terms of the original layout, very dark in the middle and the ceiling is very low. A lot of people don’t like the columns as well — we couldn’t do anything about that. But it’s very big; it’s certainly among the largest student rooms at Cambridge. The downside of that is that it can be sort of cavernous on a Tuesday night, which is why we wanted to create some intimate spaces within the layout.” This was accomplished by establishing different ‘zones’ within the space with furniture groupings, as well as recessing lights into the ceiling voids and relying primarily on the floor and table lamps.

Selecting the right furniture for the room turned out to be one of the biggest challenges. Seating and tables had not only to mirror the general mid-century look, but also be durable, fire-rated and ‘beerproof’. In the event some sofas and chairs were custom-made and other temporary pieces had to be brought in for the opening.

The old Club Room furniture was retired this summer.
The old Club Room furniture was retired this summer.

The room now has a completely new floor, a mix of parquet and oak. New ceiling panels running alongside the windows are there to improve the sound in the room. “The acoustics are dreadful, because of all the hard surfaces and the low ceiling, so when it’s busy in here it was impossible to have a conversation,” says Max. “But this should go some way towards improving that.” The bar has been extended and now includes Wolfson’s first Coffee Bar, which is open from 9.30 to 17.00 during weekdays.

The Club Room opens

The Bursar opened the room on schedule, thanking the students for “doing such a great job coming up with an entirely new image for the Club Room.” He also thanked Neil Newman for his efforts to complete the project on time despite the fact that J Block was also being refurbished, and Catering Manager Charles Correa, who set up the Coffee Bar, also in consultation with the students.

The Bursar, Max Mulvany and Andrew Brooke sample the first offerings from the new Coffee Bar.
The Bursar, Max Mulvany and Andrew Brooke sample the first offerings from the new Coffee Bar.

Response to the new Club Room has been extremely positive, with the only complaints from recently departed students who are sorry to have just missed it. During the first week of Term it has been used to host a Freshers’ Welcome, a Superbop and a College quiz.

“The students should be very proud of what they accomplished for this room,” says the Bursar. “Not just because they came up with a way of transforming the space whilst maintaining some of the visual tradition of the College, but also because they really committed to the project despite having heavy work loads, especially during Easter Term.”

Congratulations to all involved. Stop by for a coffee.