Thursday, 25 October 2012
This is a part 3 of my blog on Owen Hatherley's comments on the Brutalist period at the University of Leeds from A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. Please click here for part 1 and part 2. For those of you who have already read part 2, I am taking a look at the same paragraph again, however this time I am looking at Hatherley's reference to the halls of residence in the paragraph below:
In recent years the University filled the whole space with such a quantity of street furniture, foliage and inelegant public art that you can almost ignore the building. meanwhile the concrete - sculptural, shuttered stuff similar to that used in Chamberlin, Powell and Bon's hugely successful Barbican complex in London - was painted in estate-agent magnolia, and the halls of residence are being demolished, it being easier to house students in the barracks provided by the likes of Unite.
While the first image in my blog shows the Henry Price Halls of Residence, which borders Clarendon Road and the university cemetery, the actual halls that Hatherley refers to - The Charles Morris Halls of Residence - has now been demolished. Here is a photo of how they used to look (© Betty Longbottom):
What is interesting here is that the recently completed halls replacing the one mentioned above still carries the same name. The 'new' Charles Morris Hall halls of residence opened in 2010, replacing the original ones dating back to 1963. The original halls was made up of three separate houses: Whetton, Dobree and Mary Ogilvie House. In 2007 the old Charles Morris Hall was not considered fit for purpose and proposals for its demolition were drawn up. The demise and semi-resurrection of these halls could be seen as both an attempt to move beyond the modernist ideas of a past university, by creating a new halls that is better suited to student living. But, also, by keeping the name the same, we could consider this to be a return of the repressed in the sense that the university has been unable to totally move on to the new project that is required of it: the past repressed self continues its attempt to be acknowledged and seeks avenues that enable it to be gratified in the present. The Charles Morris Hall cannot shake off its 1960s self, and therefore reappears as a postmodern 'noughties' version of itself.
Campus Blogs and History:
The University of Leeds: A Very Short History
The Pigeon Feather Dérive
Schizoanalysing the University Campus
Saturday, 13 October 2012
This is a part 2 of my blog on Owen Hatherley's comments on the Brutalist period at the University of Leeds from A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. Please click here for part 1 and part 3:
That the University doesn't know what to do with the campus is obvious enough. In early photos, you can see the central space occupied by the sculpted nature of a planned garden, akin to the designs of the Brazilian landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx. In recent years the University filled the whole space with such a quantity of street furniture, foliage and inelegant public art that you can almost ignore the building. meanwhile the concrete - sculptural, shuttered stuff similar to that used in Chamberlin, Powell and Bon's hugely successful Barbican complex in London - was painted in estate-agent magnolia, and the halls of residence are being demolished, it being easier to house students in the barracks provided by the likes of Unite. The old campus is a place that cannot make sense in the present, yet this might be what is most valuable about it.
There is so much to comment on in this paragraph, but here I shall only be discussing Hatherley's remark on the campus not knowing it's purpose and will comment on the halls of residences being demolished in part 3.
Firstly, "That the University doesn't know what to do with the campus is obvious enough". It's not apparent what Hatherley actually means by this. Does he mean in regards to it's overall design? It's aesthetic style? Or just the general practicalities of placing much needed new buildings into the gradually diminishing space? When taken in the context of the last sentence - The old campus is a place that cannot make sense in the present - perhaps we can assume this is an issue of identity.
This is an interesting point because I think if he were taking about a city in postmodernity, he wouldn’t make the same remarks. A city, say, like London that contains many differing periods of architecture, buffered up against each other, and shoe-horned into small spaces - a typical postmodern city. However, if we compare The University of Leeds to some of the American campuses, say UCLA, I think it makes more sense. UCLA has a very distinct aesthetic which means it is presented to the occupant of that space, the spectator if you will, as a homogeneous place.
Much of the UCLA campus is built with this pale apricot brick. It makes buildings from different periods look more similar and gives the illusion they were not built years apart. While there are some different looking buildings on the UCLA campus, in different architectural styles, the main section looks like the building above. I would describe UCLA as a pristine-looking campus. However, it doesn't have the richness and diversity that the University of Leeds campus has on an aesthetic level: while the UCLA campus is much more 'lovely' it is not nearly as 'interesting' as Leeds.
Other Related Blogs:
At UCLA You See LA
Saturday, 6 October 2012
Here are Owen Hatherley's comments on the Brutalist period at the University of Leeds from A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, plus some of my own commentary and images:
"Leeds University in particular can boast one of the most impressive attempts to design an inner-city campus as a total, coherent environment, albeit without the need for CCTV and gating - the complex of university buildings designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon between 1958 and 1968."
"Local rumour has it that this complex served as a set for the seventies science fiction series Blake's 7. This should come as no surprise. There is a divide in the perception of these buildings between the future they seem to suggest - a space-age society with egalitarian buildings make no reference to anything so prosaic as local materials, human scale or history, which some of us may find liberating, other unnerving - and the past they are most often seen to represent. That is, the other 1960s, not the now very familiar decade reminisced over by ageing soixante-huitards but the decade of a new landscape of towers and slabs, walkways and motorways, which is only very slowly starting to come back into favour after decades in which it was abhorred by many as an example of top-down quasi-totalitarianism, often better known for its transformation into film-set dystopias at the hand of Kubrick, Truffaut and Antonioni."
Chamberlin, Powell and Bon produced two bound plans for the university in the early 1960s (see above image). I don't think it would be a stretch to describe them now as objet d'art in their own right. These publications were distributed to university staff at the time. They aren't that easy to get hold of today. I have seen them for sale for as much as £100 online.
Chamberlin, Powell and Bon's vision was futuristic, as suggested by Hatherley, but it was also a contemporary response to the need for an expanded campus that could accommodate all the new postwar students. While it included the idea of students communing in Italian inspired piazzas, it also took a very rational and economic approach to the use of space. This even appeared in the form of 'joker' floors on the top of teaching buildings, which could easily be converted to teaching, administration or residential floors. Until recently some of these floors were still residential halls, as was the case in the Social Sciences building.
Whether you like, dislike or are indifferent to Brutalist architecture, much of it is now being listed, as are a number of these buildings at the University of Leeds, including the Roger Stevens Lecture Theatre shown in my first photo. So, its legacy is still really a work-in-progess. Elain Harwood, in her recent book on Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, when commenting on these university buildings says: "They have proved to be as adaptable as Chamberlin had promised, with the walls moved ad infinitum and service ducts coping with increased loadings. [...] The teaching buildings were listed in 2009, to ensure the conservation of their special qualities."
Apparently it is an urban myth that Blake's 7 was filmed there...
Other blogs in this series:
Chamberlin, Powell and Bon: Does the old campus make sense in the present? - Part 2
Chamberlin, Powell and Bon: The Return of the Repressed - Part 3