Architects defend law centre

January 3, 1997

AWARD-WINNING architects at the centre of a dispute with Cambridge University over "disastrous" noise levels at the university's new Pounds 21 million law faculty claim that a simple solution was always available.

Following legal advice, the university was examining the results of an independent acoustic consultant's report this week.

But a director of Sir Norman Foster and Partners, the building's designers, has said the firm was "very confident the dispute will be resolved".

Cambridge's estate management and building services department hired independent consultants last November following complaints from lecturers and students that the new building, opened by the Queen almost a year ago, was too noisy for lectures and study.

The main problem expected to emerge from the independent report concerns the Squire Library, which is said to be seriously polluted by noise carried from open-plan corridors and hallways. But both the architects and the original design team's acoustic consultants are claiming that the university had been made fully aware of the potential problem, and had been given the option of a simple solution all along.

Spencer de Gray, director at Sir Norman Foster and Partners responsible for the Cambridge contract, explained: "Among the issues discussed with the faculty during the design development were measures, in the form of a screen, to provide more separation for the reading areas of the library."

Richard Galbraith, a senior partner for Sandy Brown Associates, the noise consultancy which worked with Sir Norman Foster and Partners at the original design stage, said screens were discussed from the beginning of planning.

"All things were discussed with Cambridge - you can't design a building without the client knowing what's there and what isn't."

But Mr Galbraith would not comment on the potential for litigation. "Obviously my duty is still to the university. You've got someone in the dock who can't defend himself."

The independent consultants are also expected to report on wider issues, investigating claims by some students that "there is not one place" undisturbed by noise. Architects claim that an area in front of the senior common room, which was originally designed as a staff reading area, was being misused by the faculty for "receptions and other social events".

Cambridge's next move is unclear. David Todd-Jones, director of estate management at Cambridge, said: "The report has just come in. We'll be much clearer towards the end of January when the vice chancellor has had time to consider it."

John Spencer, head of Cambridge's law faculty, said: "It is a delicate matter we're trying to sort out with the minimum embarrassment to the architects or the university. I'm keeping my lips tightly sealed."

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