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Saunders Boston Architects is celebrating major anniversaries

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Saunders Boston Architects celebrated its centenary last month, which has occurred in the same year as the 50th anniversary of its Cambridge office. The milestones have been marked with an exhibition and other events to commemorate its most iconic designs.

The practice is based on Newmarket Road, with an additional office in Exeter.

“Most of our business is within a two-hour drive of Cambridge,” says director John Blair, one of five directors in the firm, which employs 62 people.

The interior of ARU's Science Centre
The interior of ARU's Science Centre

“The company started 100 years ago in London by founder Charles James,” says John. “The first project was a housing project in Lincoln. The Cambridge office was set up 50 years ago by Peter Boston. He was second generation.”

Charles James had passed away in the mid-1950s and the firm remained James & Bywater until the early 1960s.

“Peter Boston and John Saunders had come along in the 1950s,” says John. Along with Mr James, the trio had all “went off to the Second World War together and came back”.

“The firm was named Saunders Boston Architects in 1963, and the Cambridge office was set up in 1968. Peter Boston was involved with the firm for nearly 30 years.”

The practice designed many of the flats in the city in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“Many are still around – some on Milton Road, Barton Road and Huntingdon Road. We still do housing – that’s a quarter of the work we do.

“One other big thing we do is university work: we’re currently the only Cambridge-based architects on their framework. A lot of it is scientific laboratory work.”

The interior of the Allia Future Business Centre
The interior of the Allia Future Business Centre

That includes Anglia Ruskin University’s new Science Centre, which opened recently. The team also engages with leisure-based projects such as the Revolution Bar.

“This is a time to reflect on what we’ve become not where we’ve been. We’re a very different animal now from what we have been. When I joined there was a staff of eight or nine. Twenty years ago we changed: we needed to become a much bigger animal to survive. “

Recent Saunders Boston projects include two major swimming pools for Barnet Council; the Office of Post-Doctoral Affairs (OPdA) Centre on the University of Cambridge’s new Eddington development; a new care home in Newport (now open); the University of Cambridge Veterinary School Hospital; and the Back Lane Development in Cambourne.

Saunders Boston has also “designed 250 different houses for affordable housing in Cambridge”.

The exterior of ARU's Science Centre
The exterior of ARU's Science Centre

The firm has scaled up “to justify the investment you need to grow – ability and technical knowledge don’t come cheap”.

The 50th anniversary has been marked with a variety of events.

“We started with a reception at one of our buildings,” says John. “It was a large gathering in St John’s College which we did in the late 1980s – that was the first project I ran. More than 150 people were there to kick off a year of activities.”

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