Boathouse Redevelopment Plans

This section introduces you to the design: its need, how the architect was chosen, the design process and how it was financed, planning approval, purchase of land, obtaining access, preparation for construction, tendering and contract placement.

We are all affected to some extent by the astounding buildings in Cambridge during our time in the city, and the boathouses fringing Midsummer Common are no exception. Tim Rawle, in his definitive book, Cambridge Architecture, refers to their “playful and decorative elevations”.

Ours is well known to local commuters, being the only one situated on the upstream side of Victoria Bridge in a Conservation Area. Built by alumni subscription in 1887 in a half-timbered style and presented by those people to the College, it is the oldest surviving wooden framed boathouse on the Cam and kept fully functional by the College. So, why the need to renew it? Surprisingly, this is part of a trend along the Cam, caused by colleges becoming co-ed and by development of land-training. These require much more space on upper floors. Eight colleges have adapted already, either by expanding or by rebuilding their boathouses, and Christ’s is the next one to do it. However, it’s neither easy nor cheap, as most of them are of historic importance, built on poor foundations, on cramped sites and beside a river which can flood. Accordingly, in Jan ‘08 the Steering Committee resolved to seek a way ahead, and appointed a sub-committee.


Detail of how we chose the architect

Four architects were briefed in April 2008, from one of whom an Option Study was to be commissioned, financed by The Blades, to establish the best way ahead. Above all, we were seeking improvement in the following areas:

Changing Rooms: On inspection of eight other boathouses, it was clear that, while our changing and washing facilities were not bad, they were not up to the hygiene standards expected nowadays, and the women’s showers simply did not work.

Selwyn Boathouse 1963

   Fig. 1   

Road Access: When our boathouse was built, road access was not difficult, and, in addition, a path led down its upstream side from Chesterton Road to a ferry. Two years later, Victoria Bridge was built, cutting us off on the downstream side but making the ferry path redundant. Selwyn’s boathouse was built alongside, with road access for our boat trailers possible in between, using the drive of a cottage behind (just visible in Fig 1 - 1963). However, when Selwyn joined Churchill and King’s with a new building in 1968, this boathouse, together with the cottage and a large house on Chesterton Road, were demolished, the site being sold for a Bank, with its car park leading down to the river (Fig 2). Road access to our boathouse is no longer welcome, but, in preparation for this Study, at least the precise boundary between our site and the Bank’s had to be negotiated with Emmanuel (the freeholder), and registered. Whether anything else could be achieved remained to be seen (though buying the empty house next door wouldn’t have been a bad start).

Christ's Boathouse

   Fig. 2   

Land Training Facilities: With the growth of both student timetables and crowding on the river, land training had become an essential ingredient to any successful top crew (both men’s and women’s). While CCBC had worked hard to grow its facilities in this area, particularly with the installation of a small dedicated free-weights area on the ground floor, and ownership of eight “Concept 2” ergometers and a “Row-Perfect”, it was clear that we were limited by a floor plan which was not designed for it. The Option Study would investigate ways to optimise arrangement of our equipment and space to make land training, and the associated fitness benefits, more attractive.

Christ's Boathouse 1887

   Fig. 3   

Balcony: The original design of our boathouse incorporated a handsome balcony (Fig 3), with access to the first floor Club rooms through a door at the downstream corner, which still exists. By 1963 the balcony was much shorter (Fig 4), and soon after it was removed as unsafe (Fig 2). However, balconies are a delightful feature of many of the boathouses (eg LMBC, Queens’, Goldie, Jesus, Clare and even the newest built Downing and Fitzwilliam). The sub-committee thought it would be wonderful to reinstate ours.

The Option Study was to report in autumn ‘08. If any substantial investment was recommended it would have to be financed by alumni (The Blades), but this has always been the case, and not only in Christ’s. Downing’s Millennium boathouse was largely funded by Old Boaties, but with a contribution from the College, based on the rents chargeable for the six student rooms on its new second floor; and it was thought that this might be a possibility for us if a major expansion of our boathouse seemed to be the right course (and if this could be steered through the planning authorities).

Christ's Balcony

   Fig. 4   

The architects reported in October ‘08, with a refreshing variety of solutions (though none of them managed to resolve the lack of road access!) and the best two were selected to conduct a more detailed, funded study, following a revised brief, as the sub-committee had learnt much during the initial phase. In preparation for this, we invited the two winners to come on a tour of several other boathouses on the Cam to get a flavour of good (and bad) practice; and also to observe our boathouse under “race pressure” during the Fairbairn Cup Races. The parallel studies ran from January to April ‘09. With some clarification work, the final concepts were presented in May, and the winner from the two excellent candidates was Julian Bland, of Bland, Brown and Cole (BB&C), a local practice.

Plans Fig 5

   Fig. 5   

How the plans evolved

First, it is important to understand that all concepts assumed the right to expand onto the old “ferry path” on the upstream side of the boathouse. This was no longer a right of way, half belonging to Christ’s and the other to Emmanuel, the freeholder of the Barclays branch next door, so negotiation to secure the right for us to build on it had to start. BB&C’s winning concept (Fig 5) proposed:

  • Replacement of the tub (VIIIs) shed by a wider building with a balcony and a full first storey (set back slightly to accentuate the original).
  • Continuation of the balcony in front of the existing boathouse and round the corner, joining a new entry platform at first floor level.
  • Expansion of the original first floor to the back of the existing building by raising the rear roof to the level of the front one.
Plans Fig 6

   Fig. 6   

On the ground floor, the VIIIs shed became much wider while still having the height to stack five boats on roller racks each side, and the balcony was reinstated, now sweeping across the front of both parts of the building (Fig 7). In the existing boathouse, the downstream bay, though narrowed, remained the workshop, but able to take a full length VIII without restriction, while the other bay was widened and used for storage of small boats, as it was shortened by a transverse corridor and a stair. Tubs (always cumbersome) were to be stowed under cover but outside, under the entrance ramp. Switching to the view from further along Victoria Avenue (Fig 10), the rear roof of the old boathouse was also to be raised.

Plans Fig 7

   Fig. 7   

Upstairs, the “historic rooms” were retained and enhanced: the gym being in the rear area while the boatman’s office (with a good view of what’s happening on the hard) and a “Blades room” (for entertainment, academic work or watching videos of training outings) took up the front. The rest of this vast new first floor (over double) was to house expanded changing and bathrooms, bikes and a large ergo room, able to train a whole VIII together, and even of linking the ergos in two sliding groups of four. There were large doors out onto the new balcony (where you could even use the ergos in summer!).

Plans Fig 8

   Fig. 8   

So, what were the problems and why didn’t it immediately forge ahead? Firstly, there was a need for some land acquisition. Next, all the architects advised that the only practical way to carry out the building would be by negotiating access through Barclays’ car park. Thirdly, planning permission was needed, of course, and this is in the Cambridge conservation area, though we were helped by using a local architect who had done this before and knew the planners well. Fourthly, as mentioned above, we hoped to be able to generate some income by including accommodation in the design and thereby helping to defray the initial cost. However, though all the architects tried to shoehorn in some rooms, it soon became clear that our site simply was not large enough for anything useful, even if planning objections (met when Fitzwilliam tried to do the same) could be overcome. Fifthly, CCBC would have to move out for at least two terms, during the work, having to find another friendly club on which to camp, and this must be paid for; adding to the amount to be raised.


Use of the new building was all based on BB&C’s analysis of people-flow. Our rowers arrive at the existing gate off the bridge (Fig 10), with their bikes, coats and baggage. Directly opposite, they stow bikes (in a double-deck suspension store cunningly invented by the Dutch), mount the steps and proceed to the (new) front door. In the lobby (Fig 12) they hang coats, leave bulky baggage and look at notices. The boatman can see them entering from his/her office and so is alerted to imminent outings and can come out to speak. The rowers then proceed to the appropriate changing room (Fig 8). Now in kit, they emerge directly to the gym for exercises or warm-up (which can be as a full crew) on the ergos (Fig 9), after which they walk through the lobby and downstairs to the boats.

Plans Fig 9

   Fig. 9   

On return from an outing, they reverse the process, putting wet kit in the drying room if necessary. If they arrive early for an outing, or have to wait afterwards, they can use the Club room for quiet work or to make themselves a drink. This room (expanding into the gym if needed) can also be used for social functions, as can the balcony (accessible from the outside too) in good weather. The boat bays (Fig 11) can also be accessed from the gate or the balcony by stairs which lead down to the hard (Fig 5), under which is a dry stowage for two tubs, thereby removing the most inconvenient boat one has to stow in the sheds. Lastly, a mounting position for a piece of public art, such as a Yale, Rampant, has been included on the peak of the new gable, should any benefactor want to provide it!

Plans Fig 10

   Fig. 10   

Progress – Planning Application

In autumn ’08, as part of the College’s normal maintenance programme, the boathouse was painted outside, including the shield, much rotten timber was replaced, jammed windows were made to work, chimneys were repointed, and a new hot water system was fitted. In Oct ’09, Dr Yusuf Hamied (Honorary Fellow) offered funding to progress to RIBA Stage 4 (full Planning Application), which enabled the College to place a contract with the winning architects, BB&C. A month later they were ready to meet the City Planners and Conservation Officer on site, describe our proposals and gather feedback. This came in Jan 10 and was almost entirely supportive, but some small aspects of the design were adjusted as a consequence, culminating in submission of the first Planning Application in Apr 10. To take account of a neighbour’s concerns, it was withdrawn and resubmitted in early Sept, with a lowered roof line and a hipped end to the new part.

Plans Fig 11

   Fig. 11   

This was refused in Nov, following objections, on the grounds of “loss of light and overshadowing” recommending a 3m set-back of the design. A “right of light” consultant was engaged, who felt that only a 1.5m bevel to the corner of the hipped-roof (second) design was justified, with consequential rearrangement inside. The third planning application was submitted in Feb 11, including the 1.5m bevel , and, despite renewed objections, this was approved on 27th Apr 11. An application to renew this was submitted in February 14 and approved on 7th April 14 (valid for a further three years). Yet another application was necessary in 2016, to authorise adjustments to the design required by phasing the construction.

Plans Fig 12

   Fig. 12   

Progress - Land and access

Purchase of the strip of land from Emmanuel took about 18 months, and became involved with their granting of a new lease to Barclays. “Oversailing rights” were also needed, to ensure our continued ability to swing boats across their hard while being manoeuvred into and out of the sheds. Negotiation of access through Barclays’ car park for demolition and construction proved equally tortuous. At one stage (a) significant funds were going to be required to compensate the bank for temporary loss of parking spaces, and (b) it seemed a sub-lease preserving access for Camrowers’ boat storage on Emmanuel’s hard, would hold up progress. However, in Oct 10, BB&C proposed a new approach to the land use which resulted in loss of only two spaces, and Camrowers were persuaded to relinquish their lease early, leading to an interim agreement in Jan '11. However, a three-year pause while the phasing of construction was designed (see below), and during fund raising, meant that Barclays' commitment to access had to be entirely renegotiated, resulting in the frustrating loss of yet another year (although essentially the same agreement, ultimately). This was achieved in June '16.

Planning for construction

A competition for the various specialist consultants needed, once the construction phase has been authorised, was conducted in spring 11 (Quantity Surveyors (QS), Structural & Civil Engineers, Construction, Design & Management Coordinators and Party Wall Surveyors). Henry Riley LLP were chosen as QS and directed to re-estimate the overall cost of the project so as to inform the Appeal process. As a risk reduction measure, preliminary ground investigations were conducted in July 11 by the Structural/Civil Engineers, the Andrew Firebrace Partnership, to enable the foundations to be designed. Their report indicated a soft and unstable river bank, requiring drilled concrete piling, some deeper test boreholes to confirm this, and possibly a suspended concrete raft floor, permitting escape of gases. These additional boreholes were drilled in the Easter vacation ’12, with satisfactory results, showing that the expected Gault Clay persisted beyond 15m.

Detailed Design

The design team met on 20th Feb 12 to assign tasks, and held its first progress meeting on 16th Apr, having started work earlier in the month. Subjects discussed were:

  • Floor excavation to reach the required level.
  • Flood defences.
  • Tub shelter and balcony design.
  • Street-side design (contemporary or traditional).
  • Boat storage flexibility and optimisation (eg stowing half the VIIIs in the widened bay and the other half in the middle bay would permit more small boats to be accommodated, for the cost of only one extra racking column).
  • Concrete and steelwork delivery.
  • Capacity of showers.
  • Use of solar panels.
  • Ergo room ventilation.

The rowing members of the Club had been asked to study the drawings and state their preferences/wishes for the new building.

At the 2nd progress meeting on 15th May '12, the following were discussed:

  • Common collaborative database using Woobius software.
  • New CAD software (providing realistic fly-through modelling).
  • Heat pump option (subsequently rejected, after study).
  • Retention or re-creation of historic features.
  • Options for retention or replacement of the floor in the old part of the boathouse (see 4th Aug meeting below).
  • Type of piling to use (see 4th Aug meeting below).
  • Temperature control of workshop to ensure correct conditions for adhesives and low level residual heating below boats in other two bays to reduce risk of rot.

On 3rd July '12, the meeting covered:

  • Discussion of the programme to the end of the year and of the candidate main contractors to be considered in the tendering process.
  • Narrowing of options for (a) piling and (b) the construction method for the upper floor in the original part of the building.
  • Party Wall authority.
  • Update of estimated cost, additional to detailed design (but excluding client items such as furniture, white goods, gym equipment, ergs, removals, temporary relocation of Club).
  • Sites for temporary club move during construction.
  • Definition of liquidated damages to be included in contract terms.
  • The additional (9m) test bore recommended by our Structural/Civil Engineers, the Andrew Firebrace Partnership. This had been conducted on 26th March and proved that clay existed to the bottom, and beyond, allowing the use of screw piles of the design originally considered, and of the same number.

At the 8th Aug '12 meeting, prospective materials for decking the balcony and for flooring the gymnasium were examined. Other subjects included:

  • Finalisation of the steelwork design
  • Party wall policy
  • Need for all four ventilation towers (a small saving may be possible by reducing the width of one of them, but considering aesthetic aspects)
  • Decision to retain original first floor in old part, with strengthening for its use as a gym, thereby saving about £50K which would have been needed for supporting the walls while a concrete floor was inserted.
  • Decision to leave open for choice by main contractor either dry screw piles or concrete injection type, as both had proved to be satisfactory.
  • Bicycle stowage (revision needed, allowing overflow along walkway to balcony, as original double height stowage proved to be impractical)
  • Drainage inspections (conducted, and actions assigned)
  • Asbestos survey (conducted in July and satisfactory – actions assigned)
  • Tender list (approved)

The final Detailed Design meeting was held on 17th Sept 2012. The Stage F Report was handed over, marking design completion, compliance with the Building Regulations and readiness for tendering. As insufficient funds had been raised to permit tendering, it was decided that the project would be suspended.

Phasing and Way Ahead

In order to start works on the boathouse redevelopment project without delay our architects, Bland Brown and Cole (BB+C), came up with an inventive plan in Dec 13 to split the Boathouse Project into four phases, each complete in itself, but building upon the last, ultimately producing a building as detailed in the original redevelopment plans.

These phases apportioned the work accordingly:

  • Phase One – Demolition of the current VIIIs shed and construction of the new steel building.
  • Phase Two – Raising the rear walls and roof of the old boathouse to match the front; extending rearwards the first floor. Renewing the bathrooms and changing areas.
  • Phase Three – Fitting of balcony to the outside of the buildings and creation of new storage for tubs.
  • Phase Four – Final phase with reassignment of internal spaces to create the layout of rooms as envisioned in plans.

Phases One (and probably Two) became our focus throughout 2014 and 2015, while access through Barclays’ car park was being renegotiated, but, by Spring 2016, a combination of unexpectedly healthy fundraising and favourable quotations indicated that it would be possible to combine elements of all four phases in the construction, thereby saving both time and money.

This will result in (see drawing 746B/401T3 dated 24.6.16 below): * * * * * * * * * *

On the ground floor:
• An enlarged VIIIs bay, in the middle of which we shall probably store the wooden tub.
• A standard-sized boat bay (in the original building)
• A narrower bay/workshop.

On the first floor:
• A very large gymnasium and erg room above the VIIIs bay.
• The existing large and small (“Mays”) rooms, adapted as Club rooms, redecorated and with a small catering facility.
• A Boatman’s office, with views in most directions!
• A new passageway and entrance halfway along the side of the building, accessed from the new metal walkway.
• New men’s and women’s changing room, showers and toilets to the rear of the original building, under the newly raised roof.

• A metal access platform off the street (+ stowage for bins).
• Steps up to the walkway which leads to the new entrance and to stairs down to the Hard.
• Steps down to the ground, where bicycles can be stowed, with access also to the Hard.
• A metal balcony across the front of both parts of the building.

Notes: This design revision:
• Eliminates the internal stair, thereby requiring those who want to reach the boat bays from the first floor to go outside, however with the advantage of slightly larger changing rooms and less interference with boat stowage.
• Eliminates the bin and bike stowage, which was thought to be inefficient.
• Moves the tub stowage to the extra-wide VIIIs bay, thereby freeing up the under-walkway space for bikes.

The design of the redevelopment will create an attractive building which will retain much of the original boathouse’s feel and structure, but with the addition of a purpose built erg room and large weights gymnasium. These facilities will provide all rowers with year-round access to land training facilities, crucial in allowing rowers’ fitness levels to excel, especially in winter months when training times can be restricted by flooding and limited hours of daylight. Better facilities will undoubtedly provide the necessary training opportunities for College rowers leading, we hope, to more Christ’s rowers representing the University and even the country.

Tendering and Contract Placement

Tendering took place during Aug 16. The overall build contract was placed by the College with Barnes Construction late Sept 16, and work started on site 10th Oct. Meanwhile the boathouse was cleared during Sept (with some help provided by participants at the Alumni Regatta on 17th Sept), and the Club is operating from the temporary facility established by Caius in the grounds of Corpus boathouse for the whole of academic year 2016/17. See attached regular updates from the Contractors.


If you are contacting one of the committee with regard to a particular drawing, please quote the reference code in your communication.

Existing site plan #102D

Proposed site plan align #103D

Existing ground floor plan #104D

Proposed ground floor plan #105E

Existing first floor plan #106D

Proposed first floor plan #107F

Existing roof plan #108D

Proposed roof plan #109F

River elevation A #110D

River elevation B #111D

River elevation C #115C

East (road) elevation A #112D

East (road) elevation B #113E

West elevation #114F

Rear elevation #116C

First Floor GA plans 746B/401T3 dated 24.6.16