07 October 2014
“Masterpiece” of Brutalism celebrated with new exhibition
As the rediscovery and reevaluation of Brutalism in the UK continues to gather pace, the University of Essex officially opens an exhibition this week devoted to its iconic Colchester Campus – described by the co-curator Professor Jules Lubbock as a “masterpiece” of 1960s design.
The show titled Something Fierce: University of Essex – Vision and Reality opens as the National Trust launches tours of the 27-storey Balfron Tower, a 1960s concrete tower block in east London, designed by architect and designer Erno Goldfinger.
Professor Lubbock, an expert on architecture and urbanism alongside the Italian Renaissance, has fought for years for recognition for the Colchester Campus designed by Kenneth Capon from Architects' Co-Partnership.
Thousands still live and work at the Colchester Campus with some not realising the architectural heritage of the buildings designed at the University’s birth 50 years ago.
Professor Lubbock, who co-curated the exhibition with University Arts and Gallery Director Jessica Kenny, said: “Capon’s ferocity has been loved by some, loathed by many and blamed for years of student protest.
“By explaining the rationale of our 1960s architecture we hope to raise people’s awareness of the University’s heritage and encourage people to be proud of it.”
The title of the exhibition, designed by David Hillman, is inspired by Capon’s insistence that he wanted to avoid the English trap of "softening everything up" and "do something fierce to let them work within".
The displays investigate how an 18th century landscaped parkland once painted by Constable and with a Jacobean mansion at its heart became the home of an ultra-modern 20th century university.
Professor Lubbock explains the ideas which inspired the University including the key figures of Lord Annan and the first Vice-Chancellor Sir Albert Sloman and how Capon carried those ideas into the masterplan and the key buildings.
Capon’s key buildings include the dramatically positioned Albert Sloman Library influenced by another Brutalist masterpiece - Kenzo Tange’s Kagawa Prefecture - and the imposing brick towers which evoke Kahn’s Philadelphia Laboratories.
The Albert Sloman Library is still influential and was included as an icon of the 20th century in the V&A exhibition British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age.
The exhibition is being staged in another iconic building The Hexagon, newly refurbished especially, which once graced a postage stamp due to its provocative quartz inspired design.
The displays include photos, architectural drawings and even a recreation of the LEGO model built by Capon for Sloman in 1962 to explain his initial masterplan.
Other displays include examples of how the original 1960s concrete was created on site to highlight the skilled workmanship required.
A second section of The Hexagon exhibition is devoted to the life of the University over the past five decades including the student protests of the late 1960s and 1970s through to the Anti-Apartheid Movement and human rights campaigns of more recent years.
Something Fierce: University of Essex – Vision and Reality. The Hexagon, University of Essex, Colchester Campus, Tuesday 7 October – Saturday 13 December 2014, Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11am – 5 pm.