I am not the archetypal fan of modern architecture in Cambridge. I revere the ancient honey-coloured stone, the cold old cloisters, the imposing courts bearing down with both the castle-like grandeur of their four walls and the weight of history and tradition they embody. I applied to Corpus partly because of its reputation for being an artsy college, partly because its medieval Old Court is the oldest courtyard still standing in the country, and partly because it has only one modern bit – the Taylor Library, which is tastefully built out of sand-coloured stone.

But, as the most fascinating Shakespearean villain, Iago, once said, “I am not what I am”. I harbour a secret passion for concrete. That’s to say that the ying of the Brideshead Revisited aesthetic needs the yang of the 60s brutalist and contemporary functionalist aesthetics. Accordingly, here is a hard-hitting piece of journalism on the ugly modern buildings in Cambridge that I find strangely aesthetically pleasing. Journalism did Watergate, and now it’s doing this.

 

Typerwriter or terraced landscape? You decideMichael behrend

 

Christ’s Typewriter Building

Was this supposed to look like a typewriter? Was it just a strange accident by some 1960’s brutalist architect? I have no idea. I don’t suppose it matters: as Roland Barthes reminds us, the author is dead. What this building does, with its small rooms – cells, might in fact be a more apt word, looking at it – stacked together like typewriter keys is to reflect artistically the academic grind of Cambridge. The caffeine-fuelled all-nighters click-clacking away at typewriter (and now laptop) keys find their physical manifestation in this building. It’s like the seventeenth-century poem ‘Easter Wings’ by George Herbert, which is about how we can all (figuratively speaking) fly because of the saving sacrifice of Christ, and its two stanzas are shaped together like wings. In the same way, the form is a perfect expression of the content – quite literally, seeing as the content of this building is a bunch of students slaving away at their degrees. It is an exquisite aesthetic statement.

 

The home of hipsters and heartthrobsalwikiuser

 

The English Faculty

It’s a funny terracotta colour and has lots of big windows. I have no idea when it was built, having scoured the internet for this information to no avail. It’s the most vexing fruitless pursuit of a point of inquiry I’ve had on the internet ever since I spent three hours last term trying to find out what Hogwarts house Rufus Scrimgeour was in (I suspect Gryffindor, because he refused to divulge Harry’s location even under torture by Death Eaters – but I had the niggling suspicion that he wouldn’t be because he was very funny with Harry and Dumbledore in the Half-Blood Prince) to no avail.

But in any case, this is a modern, functional building. It just does what it does because it’s cool. Like the people who work in there, who are almost always that stereotypical subset of English student: the hipsters who always wear green headphones – on one ear, off on the other. Because they’re cool. You can tell they love ArcSoc and ‘mandy’ and Norf Landan. And with its great panes of glass shining out of its terracotta facade, the English Faculty serves as a great means of broadcasting to the lesser folk of the Sidgwick site just how fucking cool – or ‘kwl’, as I should probably misspell it – these green headphone wearers are.

 

The Gates of Moria nestled between King’s and Catz Google maps

 

The slab of concrete at the side of King’s

From the perennial vantage point of my spot in the Corpus library, I have often looked to my left in a confused reverie and considered who the fuck thought creating this block of grey might possibly resemble a good idea. For a long while, I was convinced that it was a thought process analogous to that in the invention of pebbledash as related by Sean Lock: some bloke saying, “I’ve got a great idea: why don’t I cover up your lovely brickwork and make it look – you know – shit?” But then I realised it’s making a big statement by creative means, this hulking block of ugliness squatting down near King’s Chapel, comprehensively ruining the aesthetics of the Parade. You know how before you come to Cambridge King’s looks like this great, beautiful college and then it turns out it’s full of people who want to bulldoze the majestic chapel because God is a #ciswhitemale? That’s the point artistically expressed by this slab of concrete alongside the beauty of King’s.

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