Inside a Trinity courtSofia Johanson with permission for Varsity

Have you ever seen the Wolfson building at Trinity? Rising like a monstrous geometric shark fin from amongst the charming passageways and wide bay windows that make up Whewell’s, this diabolical edifice provided me with a home during my first six months at Cambridge. Not one that I wished to spend much time in.

Aside from the curious incident of a stolen toilet seat (culprit still unknown), I was desperate to stay out of my barren, sterile room as much as physically possible, avoiding doing any work there and always arranging to see friends in their accommodation. Why? Because it was so unbelievably ugly, and I am genuinely convinced that the lack of any sense of warmth robbed me of comfort, spurring me on to seek new spaces where I could truly feel at home.

Wren LibrarySofia Johanson with permission for Varsity

My distaste is certainly a result of being disgustingly spoiled when it comes to pretty buildings with historical significance. The building where my secondary school is located housed Handel as composer-in-residence in 1717, and my primary school is a listed building that appears in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and provided Second World War spy Eddie Chapman with a home. So I’ve clearly been conditioned to learn and explore in places defined by beauty and history. This made transitioning to the Raised Faculty Building a challenge.

“When I look back on my time at Cambridge, I don’t want to think of brutalist architecture”

You will be relieved to learn that I have managed to cope. No, I haven’t learnt to love the lack of windows in the MML Library, the undeniably phallic design of the UL, nor the striking (read: awful) Queens’ building that you can see from the backs.

I often grit my teeth and tolerate the ugliness of the aforementioned buildings. I tell myself that I really need a stable internet connection to get my essay done, and rather than sit in Michaelhouse Cafe unable to access JSTOR, but able to gaze up at the ceiling and marvel at the genius idea of putting a cafe in a church, I roll my eyes and wander over to the sliding-door insulated “bunker” in the MML library.

King's at duskEsther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

But when I have the choice, you will always find me elsewhere. This year I’ve found myself in Emma chapel, Trinity Hall hall (haha), and the Knox Shaw room at Sidney, each location providing me with memories in a beautiful setting. Simply put, when I look back on my time at Cambridge, I don’t want to think of brutalist architecture and austere classrooms, and with such an abundance of beautiful courtyards, pretty libraries, and bay windows, why would I allow this to become a possibility?

Pembroke by nightEsther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

I’m sure many people simply couldn’t care less about what the room in which they are studying, eating, socialising or sleeping looks like. Excellent: you won’t take my spot on King’s Parade where I can stare at that Caius turret.


Mountain View

Lecture Block room 3, I secretly love you

When my dad dropped me off for the penultimate time in January, he said: “If you can’t get inspired here, then you’ve got no hope.” He was not referring to the wealth of world-leading academics, or the fact that I’m surrounded by (mostly) fabulously intelligent students with a genuine hunger for knowledge and understanding. He was just talking about the buildings, their beauty, and knowing who has trodden their corridors before you.

So while I might be being entirely unreasonable and dramatic for refusing to work or meet friends in ugly locations, I am just going to have to own it – and say I’m doing it in the name of “inspiration”.