On 23rd August 2018 Edward Grocott wrote:

Cambridge study tour: 20-ish century architecture

Weather limited the full programme for this cycling tour, one of the activities on offer as part of our Cambridge study tour, but our group was not deterred.

We collected our bikes and braced ourselves to cycle to the first stop, Churchill College, in the pouring rain. Once we had dried off, we were able to enjoy the College spaces and, in particular, the impressive dining hall designed by Sheppard Robson in the early 1960s. We moved on, along the College walkways and through the quads, to the more recent Cowan Court student residences designed by 6a Architects. Clearly influenced by the layered brick, timber and glass façades of the existing college buildings, the building mimics the university quad typology. The entrance to the building is via a cloister that extends around the landscaped inner courtyard which provided pleasant shelter from the rain. It was then time for lunch by the river and it was just our luck that, as we entered a nearby pub, the sun came out.

The next stop was to see James Stirling’s Faculty of History building (below), where we learned all about the building’s spectacular failings thanks to a tour by the Building Manager. Not only was it built the wrong way around (it was discovered that a part of the original site was unavailable to the University after Stirling won the competition), but the ventilation fans, placed sensitively over a quiet library space, haven’t been turned on for 50 years due to the fact they “sound like a jet engine”. The roof constantly leaks when it rains, putting the library books at jeopardy, and the greenhouse effect heats the top floor to 40 degrees at the height of summer and to freezing point during winter. The frustrated Building Manager also added that the building’s Grade II listed status limited the much-needed technological upgrades. We moved swiftly on.

The final stop was to visit Patrick Hodgkinson’s modernist Harvey Court, which we renovated and upgraded in 2011. We were able to walk around the gardens and the podium courtyard to soak up the last slice of sunshine before, once again, being soaked in torrents of the Cambridge rain.