“More even than the work of great architects, I loved buildings that grew silently with the centuries, catching and keeping the best of each generation, while time curbed the artist’s pride and the Philistine’s vulgarity, and repaired the clumsiness of the dull workman.”
Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited
Building on the Studio’s past two years exploring primary and secondary education this year we turn our gaze to some of the oldest institutions in the world, places that become our home for several formative years in the pursuit of ‘higher education’ – Universities. We pose the simple question – how do we build well?
The most enduring universities emerged from the building form of Cistercian monasteries such as Le Thoronet Abbey in southern France. Clusters of interconnecting quadrangles at once define a spatial and organisational logic for rooms within a college whilst contributing significantly to cities urban streetscape and civic qualities. The year began with students visiting Oxford and Cambridge and documenting them at the scale of City, College, Building and Detail.
During this process we discovered longevity does not necessarily rely upon static and unwavering edifices. As Waugh conjures the provocative image of a building as an almost accidental accumulation of comfort and patina, more grown than conceived. Even the most ancient buildings undergo a process of repair, remaking, or as Ruskin put it ‘changefulness’.
The studio went on to visit works by Marie-José Van Hee in Ghent and the serene Roosenberg Abbey by the architect monk Dom Hans van der Laan, before embarking on the main project, to conceive a new University building on range of constrained urban sites in Aldwych for institutions including LSE, Kings College, and The Courtauld to accommodate academic communities and unknown pursuits for centuries to come.
Sir Alex Gorden’s popular mantra of the 70’s ‘long life, loose fit’ provoked the studio’s reflection on how buildings might be as generic, flexible and ‘loose fitting’ as possible, inviting the resourcefulness and improvisation of successive generations to impress their own ideals.
Studio 11 is delighted to present the outcome of these various conversations, insights and explorations, projects promoting values of academic freedom and institutional autonomy; buildings of long life and low specificity, timeless and changeful.
The show remains open until 7th July.