Though only on display for a few weeks, the Cambridge in Concrete exhibition has provided a space for the discussion of the post-war contributions to the architecture of Cambridge. Too often, attention and the camera lens are focused on the built achievements dating from the medieval period, when, within living memory, British architects have done so much more for the city.
Until 25 May 2012, at the University of Cambridge, selected material from the RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection are on show to the public to highlight the work of architects in the 1950 and 1960s whose buildings dared to express their construction and utilised concrete, a material that was in contrast to Cambridge’s then existing buildings. Nevertheless, these modern structures respected the scale and form of their surroundings and enabled the city to accommodate the changing needs created by the post-war expansion of the university and growth in higher education. The consideration given to the picturesque landscape of Cambridge and the collaborative spirit of the age are partly reflected in one picture; included in the exhibition is an evocative image of the George Thomson Building, designed by Philip Dowson of Arup Associates, which sits low in landscaped gardens with a sculpture of a seated figure by Henry Moore in the foreground. Made of reinforced concrete, the mass of this building is broken into several blocks and relieved by the extended concrete frame raised on pilotis which offered sheltered circulation spaces, like the old cloisters, for the graduates living there.
Writing in 1970, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner was already declaring: “That there are failures among these many buildings goes without saying, but there are also masterpieces among them” (Pevsner p.42). Now, over forty years later, the public are invited to see for themselves the fruits of a building boom that gave commissions to great architects such as Hugh Casson, Denys Lasdun, Powell & Moya, Leslie Martin and Basil Spence and added their modern designs – worthy of more attention – to ‘hidden’ Cambridge.
Read more about this exhibition in an interview with curator Dr Marco Iuliano from the Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge, in ‘Cambridge in Concrete: the boom years of Brutalism’. Admission to Cambridge in Concrete is free.
- Pevsner, N., Cambridgeshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970