Articles and Reviews




Now that the nineties are over we can look back and ask what characterised the style of that decade. But at any other time in history could four buildings in one city, opened within one year for similar purposes - two libraries, two college buildings, two university buildings - be so different?
The most contextual is no copy or mere pastiche but very mannerist with windows that could be Queen Anne Revival, but are framed by cream brick, not red. The most high-tech - in having the latest constructional technology - is built of stone and is the most elegant. Apart from their pale colours, and books, the two libraries have nothing in common; nor has either anything in common with the two previous new libraries at St. Johns and Downing Colleges. Two are cool monochrome, one warm monochrome and one coloured - but not as we know it!
Though none of the buildings are open to the public they can all be seen from the public realm, and from that viewpoint I will briefly review them. For plans, interior views and further comments consult the publications listed at the end of this article.

Foster's Law Faculty Library in High-Tech style rises sheer out of the ground (like his Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank) with grass up to the glass line, and contrasts in this respect with its neighbours, the Arts Faculties Building on pilotis with Corbusian space flowing under it, and the History Library, a toy- or gem-like crystal sitting on a plinth above a moat to separate it from its environment.

Foster's building has contrasting north and south elevations, the south one opaque, straight and vertical towards the Arts Faculties Building, and the other translucent, curved in section and in plan to relate to the diagonal of Stirling's building. The entrance is at the prow behind the mast holding up (or tying down) the roof.

Whereas the Law Library is cool and calm Evans and Shalev's Jesus College Library is cool and mannerist, and has the contextual element of pale brick to relate to the gault brick of the adjacent building. Once the other two sides of the courtyard are built, and four years later they haven't yet, the only public view of the building will be end on seen through a locked gate in Jesus Lane. Even with two sides visible there is no obvious main entrance, and it is not up the flight of steps at the end - but as it is not a public or even university building it has no need of a conspicuous entrance, but relates instead to the college layout.
Hopkin's Queens Building at Emmanuel College looks traditionally constructed but is not - rather it is the latest in his sequence of explorations in load bearing masonry. Nor from the public realm, Emmanuel Street, does it appear to relate to the college layout, but to a service yard off the street. Presumably it does relate to the college plan, but this is not evident, indeed appears not to, from outside the college.
It is an elegant warm honey coloured building of stone and timber panels, with apsidal ends, very self-effacing, perhaps due to its location, finely proportioned and detailed.
Building number four is the Judge Institute for Management Studies by John Outram, completely transformed from its former incarnation as Addenbrookes Hospital. There is nothing clinical about it now - all is colour boldly applied even to the rear elevation. The even bolder atrium inside can be glimpsed through the entrance lobby and is quite an eyeful! There are the giant ducts, looking like loose rolls of lino standing on end and not at all structural, and the predominantly red blue and brown colouring of the stairs and balconies round the atrium, all assaulting the eyes.
The four buildings defy comparison, or even evaluation by common criteria, yet somehow they all fit their context. Or do they? The buildings all have formal qualities, and apart from the Queens Building, all have relatively formal settings, which seem at odds with the shorts and T shirts worn by the students.
What can be said from a Christian viewpoint? The only certain thing is that they echo the variety of creation and their meticulous detailing expresses the care of their creators. The Queens Building is beautiful, elegant and well proportioned; the Law Faculty is elegant; and the Judge Institute eye-catching and colourful, all attributes to dwell on and enjoy; while unfortunately the end view of Jesus Library is blocky, awaiting the next phase to be tenoned in - however its courtyard elevation can be enjoyed until then.
For plans and interiors see the following references:

Law Faculty Library by Foster Associates - Architects Journal 27 July 1995.

Jesus College Library by Evans and Shalev - Architects Journal 25 April 1996 and Building Design 8 March 1996.

Queens Building, Emmanuel College by Michael Hopkins - Building Design 26 May 1995.

Judge Institute of Management by John Outram - Architecture Today November 1995. 

This article by Leslie Barker first appeared in the ACPA Newsletter of Winter 1996.


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