'A charming bit of impermanent architecture that brought students, staff, and fellows together'Alexander Kusztyk with permission for Varsity

The marquee that occupied the 16th-century First Court of St John’s College from June 2021 until February 2023 was a beloved eyesore. Formally known as “The Structure”, it featured three toilets, five brass chandeliers, and a wall of windows opening onto a panoramic view of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s imposing Victorian Gothic Revival chapel. The Structure served as a temporary buttery, cafe, and bar while trendy replacements of these facilities (codenamed the “Community Hub”) were under construction in the northeast corner of the College’s Second Court.

“There was often a quiet vivacity to the building”

Perhaps the greatest success of The Structure was its simple, yet spacious rectangular floor plan that could adapt to the changes of pace in the day-to-day life of its patrons. This multi-purpose space accommodated study sessions between meals, functioned as a pre- and post-formal meeting point, and even transformed into the mildly-swanky casino for the 2022 May Ball.

There was often a quiet vivacity to the building, as the melodies of conversation and crockery-tinkling coalesced within its ephemeral walls. It felt personable. Of course, it is nice to have – in the new St John’s buttery – trays that are not fraying at the edges, and drinks glasses without the incessant stains of grime. When queuing for these items in the tent, it was made convenient to strike a conversation with the bar staff, or to place an order for a pint that would inevitably taste better over dinner. The non-compartmentalisation of programmatic function added an underlying energy to the space that was evident over end-of-term karaoke nights and college-wide viewing parties for Champions League and World Cup finals.


Mountain View

In defence of the Sidgwick sights

Though its interior was by no means aesthetically pleasing and St John’s members often found themselves apologising for this to their guests, The Structure was an undeniable centre of college life.

True, this tent displaced at least one “Please Keep Off the Grass” sign and spoiled countless photographs. True, as well, its slippery accessibility ramps caused many falls and its ill-fitted doors never seemed to close on cold evenings. On days of exceptional gale, one was left to question the structural integrity of the steel uprights and canvas roof that sheltered occupants from the elements. Yet despite these and other flaws, it persists in the memory of the College as a charming bit of impermanent architecture that succeeded in bringing students, staff, and fellows together. In the month following The Structure’s demolition, uncovered dead grass lingered as a depressing ruin marking a happier past. While a verdant carpet of new turf has since been meticulously laid, walking through First Court, one cannot help but sense that something is missing.