Building Study: Churchill College housing, Cambridge, by Cottrell & Vermeulen

Churchill College Housing _DSF2392

The postgraduate block is a deft study in how to do contextual architecture when the context happens to be your own work, writes Ike Ijeh

Whenever an architect revisits a project or area he or she worked in 10 or 20 years before it always provides a valuable opportunity to assess the evolution of their work. When Richard Rogers returned to Leadenhall Street in the City of London to design the Leadenhall Building in the early 2010s, his work was calmer and less provocative than the mechanistic pugilism of the Lloyd’s Building opposite, built 30 years earlier. Equally, when Richard Gilbert Scott returned to Guildhall Yard half a mile down the road to design the crafted neo-gothic pile of Guildhall Art Gallery in 1999, he was presumably in a more conciliatory and contextually sensitive mood than was the case when he authored the punk-brutalist concrete hulk of Guildhall Library opposite in the early 1970s. 

In both these cases, there was a distinct softening of the architect’s work, a new malleability perhaps born of maturity, advancing years or merely the soothing unction of passing time. But can there be other consequences? Can the passage of time lead to reaffirmation rather than revision, with old ideas simply presented in new ways? How does an architecture profession obsessed with the glamour of the new handle the reactionary provocation of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought?

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