Saturday, 13 October 2012

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon: Does the old campus make sense in the present? - Part 2

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

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