In 1997 we instigated a comparison between Cambridge and Padua.  This was in response to the debate concerning the current proposals for expansion of Cambridge.  The two cities are similar in identity, both are historic cities undergoing radical growth, both are of comparable population but vastly different scales .  Padua occupies approximately 1/3rd of the area of Cambridge.  Our project for the year was entitled ‘Cambridge 3000’ and speculated upon the densification of Cambridge through a long term process of metabolic growth.


Padua Urban block metabolism analysis.


In general terms we identified two types of urban block, with variations, in our survey of Padua:


  • Centre city block of approximate dimensions 50-80 metres are typical of any dense Italian mediaeval / renaissance city. Existing as 5-6 storeys they are about twice as high as their Cambridge counterpart with block interior spaces that range from Cortili to terraces and light wells.  Their occupation is vastly more diverse than Cambridge and changes with an approximately generational frequency.


Against the modernist vision of flexible space usually conceived in terms of deep plan highly serviced floor plates (concrete frames) the masonry construction of these blocks allows for rapid and inexpensive reconfiguration and adaptation – dwellings can easily transform into offices, shops, clubs, bars, small workshops and so on.   Each block is characterised by several of these activities (and more) existing alongside each other in any given block.


  • The second type of block is much larger at least 150 metres long x 100metres,  up to 400metres x 200 / 250 metres,  and found between the XII and XIV century walls.  These blocks are similar in outward appearance. The difference is seen inside the block where one can distinguish several layers of depth developing back from streets. These layers support activities ranging from dwellings, playgrounds, and schools, through to University departments and even local headquarters of the local electricity company.   Accordingly they change character from one end to the other. The interior of the block is typically one or two gardens with car parking below ground. They present a considerable change in physiognomy across the section and in scale even allow for the development of small interior streets. The whole interior is rarely available to all the surrounding buildings rather there is a great variety of shared and private segments and modes of traversal from complete occlusion through narrow lanes to public gardens. 



There is only one block of such size and approximate complexity in Cambridge  - which brackets the cemetery between 2-storey domesticity of Gwydir Street and Anglia University.  In the most part Cambridge is characterised by low rise residential blocks or denser blocks dominated by exclusively University uses