Building Fitzwilliam College 1963-2013: an Architectural journey

Went to see the exhibition: Building Fitzwilliam College 1963-2013: an Architectural journey at Fitzwilliam College earlier today. First time in the college. What a lovely place it is! The grounds are wonderfully landscaped and the buildings that range from the 1960s to the present day spiral around the original Regency house – The Grove – famous as the house that Emma Darwin lived in after Charles Darwin’s death.

The college started off life in 1869 as an non-collegiate institution for undergrads who couldn’t afford admission to a Cambridge college. It was originally sited opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum. The would-be college moved to the present site in 1963 and employed the architect Denys Lasdun to construct student accommodation and a central hall. This was completed in 1966 and the college then awarded its Royal Charter. Since 1963 there have been six architectural practices that have worked on the site including: David Roberts; MacCormac Jamieson Prichard (now MJP Architects) ; van Heyningen and Haward; Allies and Morrison, and Edward Cullinan Architects (now Cullinan Studio).

It was particularly exciting to see the first of Lasdun’s work university work. His Brutalist concert style is very distinctive and clearly influenced by Le Corboriers.

Prior to Fitzwilliam college his work was based in London. In 1952 he designed Hallfield primary school in Paddington; in 1957, Keeling House and Bradley House in East London; and then in 1958, the sadly demolished Peter Robinson department.

After Fitzwilliam it was on to larger projects, starting with the Royal College of Physicians, London (1960–64) before moving on to the University of East Anglia, (1962–68), the University Sports Centre in Liverpool (1963), The Charles Wilson building and The Lasdun Building at the University of Leicester (1966). Having spent a lot of time at UEA I have an almost nostalgic feeling for the stark concrete buildings, especially the famous Ziggurats there. The entire campus is built on democratic and very human lines. There is a wonderful television programme from the 1960s where Lasdun explains his thinking behind UEA.

Between 1966 and 1970 he designed the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, the Institute of Education, the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies, New Court, and accommodation dubbed ‘The Typewriter’ at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Perhaps his best known work, probably due to its central location is the Royal National Theatre on the South Bank in London (1967–76). His final buildings were the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg (1974–80) and the IBM Building on the South Bank (1979–83).

At Fitzwilliam, Lasdun’s central hall really stands out with its white frill around the top. Inside it is wonderfully light with the high windows letting the light pour in. It’s well worth a visit. You can find Lasdun’s plans and such things on

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