skip to content

The University Centre

 

History

The University Centre is one of finest examples of brutalist architecture in Cambridge.

Built in 1967, in response to the finding of the Bridges Report, which lamented the lack of facilities for graduate students, the Centre was designed by the architectural partnership of Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis and constructed using a £330,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation. A plaque commemorating the official opening on 7th November 1967 by Sir Isaac Wolfson sits opposite Reception.

Architecture

The building is faced externally with naturally textured Portland stone bolted onto a concrete frame with exposed stainless steel bolts and washers. The projecting window surrounds are clad in lead. Its structure, made of high-quality precast units, is expressed internally as an architectural theme. The bays are rectangular with chopped-off corners, which reinforce their identity as separate rooms.

In 1968 the University Centre received a Civic Trust Award and a Concrete Society Commendation.

Architectural reviews

"The concrete staircase towers have obvious affinities with some modern Japanese buildings, but they are sculpturally successful and do not disturb the rhythm of the bay windows which aptly reflect the sub-division of space inside."

JM Richards, then Architectural Correspondent of The Times, 7th November 1967. (He was less flattering about the view of the Fisher Building opposite.)

"The planning is brilliantly compact, and very thoughtful – the roof terrace being a particular attraction with its provision of a bar. It is only a pity that this firm's (HKPA) tendency to sculptural mannerism, though absent from the main facades, breaks through here in the curiously branched duct and tall chimney, to mar an otherwise clear elegant design."

Cambridge New Architecture, Hughes, Lewison and Wesley, 1964.

The roof garden, closed since the early 1970's due to an insufficiently high perimeter wall, provides one of the greatest views of Cambridge. Funding is currently being sought to re-open it, but those with an interest in local architecture can contact the General Manager to arrange a visit.

Further reading

Howell, Killick Partridge & Amis: Architecture, Cantacuzino, 1981, Lund Humphries.