A scrub-up for the iconic artefacts of a bygone era

March 30, 2007

The revolutionary campuses of the Sixties are showing their age and many are booked in for a facelift, says Becky McCall

In the same way that the miniskirt and the Beatles came to symbolise the fashions of the Sixties, so reinforced concrete and glass campuses came to stand for a new era in education. These iconic institutions reflected a new wave of freethinking and intellectual rigour. But the concrete monoliths are approaching their 50th year and the cracks are showing. Vice-chancellors and architects face the choice between demolition and rebuilding and extensive renovation.

Quite a few are staying with their unique buildings but freshening them up. Essex University has spent £1 million a year over the past seven years, while Lancaster University has allocated £ million over five years. Andrew Nightingale, director of estate management at Essex, says: "Instead of demolishing, we’ve decided to work on maintaining the good and reinventing the use of the space."

Many see these Sixties constructions as weird and wonderful artefacts of bygone times. Nicholas Hare of Nicholas Hare Architects LLP, London, former architectural consultant to Essex, says the decade was a time of unparalleled convergence between the visions of vice-chancellors and architects. Today, partnerships between academe and industry mean premises have to reflect the standards of the commercial world.

Mark Swindlehurst is director of estate management at Lancaster. He says: "We recently renovated the management school with a large open-plan, adaptable floor space. There’s also a pedestrian walkway with a coffee shop and hub area to discuss ideas."

Turn up at the University of East Anglia in Norwich and you could be forgiven for believing you were in a time warp. Rick Mather Architects rose to the challenge of extending the campus without sacrificing its 1960s aspect. Rick Mather says: "We drew up a masterplan that respected the original concept of a concrete ship floating in a sea of green. But we brought the pedestrian circulation down to ground level." One of the major successes of the UEA project is the student residences, which have such highly efficient energy retention that they do not require central heating.

Rick Mather Architects are also building a design academy for Liverpool John Moores University, adjacent to the Roman Catholic Cathedral. The challenge is to build in a style complementary to this 1960s icon while satisfying the functional demands of the present.

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