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BLOG BEING UPDATED - TRY AGAIN LATER This blog records the controversial era of British architecture, 1960's Brutalism. Many Brutalist buildings have been demolished and many still are under threat

Friday 21 June 2013

Harvey court

Harvey court on the west side of the Cam is one of many new buildings for colleges of Cambridge university. It was built for Gonville and Caius college, one of the largest and wealthiest colleges to house 100 university students. Its site is away from the traditional medieval quadrangles of the city (sitting on the opposite side of the Cam) and is situated in the area developed by the university in the 1960's. Its neighbours include the monumental Cambridge university Library (built in the 1930's), the   iconic History Department and the new faculty of law building by Foster and Partners.  Harvey court was built in Sir Leslie Martin's office by Colin St John Wilson and Patrick Hodgkinson and completed in 1962. The court was named after a fellow of the college William Harvey who was a medical pioneer in the seventeenth century.

The main courtyard is actually above ground level on the first floor (hence the steps from the garden with the area beneath used for utilities, storage and common rooms). The design of the building is a modern reinterpretation of the medieval Cambridge quadrangles with the rooms looking out onto the courtyard as they do in traditional courts. It is less conventional in the fact that the courtyard is paved rather than grassed and that it is not enclosed with only three sides facing the courtyard. The fourth side is detached from the main block and faces into a large pleasant garden. The gaps between the two blocks which are not directly joined is taken by stairs which link the garden to the square and the path from the street to square, the main entrance is also located here wedged between the two blocks. 

Each individual room has an outside terrace (except the first floor which goes directly into the courtyard) which is gained from building recessing after each floor. It has three tiers of student accommodation plus the floor below for utilities. When compared to some university accommodation they are luxurious, although the very generous windows could look out to a more pleasing vista as the courtyard is uninteresting and bland in design. 

The inner and the outer exteriors (facing the courtyard and the outside) are a contrast, the former with generous windows whilst the latter has very few and is much more brutalist in its character than the inner courtyard. From the street the building certainly looks brutal and oppressive (the recognisable trade marks of a brutalist building) but from the other side it is much more elegant and pleasing for those who do not favour the style. The stepped terrace gives the courtyard considerable light and makes it feel spacious despite being a rather small site. On the exterior the columns which surround the building on three sides create an arcade, perhaps also taking their inspiration from the medieval cloister walks and quadrangles of Cambridge. The facade is broken. The gradual recess of the upper floors which allows for a terrace is shown on the exterior by the stepped formation of the facade which as it steps back in the courtyard facade it steps forward and is jettied on the exterior facade. The stairs outline on the facade facing the road breaks up the minimalist nature of the building

The building uses bricks extensively through out and heavy glazing in the courtyard. It has been recently restored and modernised with new windows facing the courtyard and the addition of solar panels to the roof. En-suite bathrooms have also been added to each room which makes gives it similar standards to other student accommodation. The project of restoration cost £7.5 million and was completed in 2011 by Levitt Bernstein architects. 

The building was listed as grade 2* by English heritage in 1993 meaning that is protected by law and the recent restoration has meant it is fit for purpose again which saves it from any possible demolition threats.

The facade facing the road showing the stairwell (top left)  
and the columns which create the covered walk

Steps from the garden up to the courtyard


  1. Admirers of this style should travel to the ex-communist world, where it arguably reached its apogee. I recommend Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo, which was provided with new and hideous government buildings in the rebuilt center to fit its new dignity as an Autonomous Province of the Serb Republic, Yugoslavia. They squat like monstrous extra-terrestrial frogs oppressing their admirers. Among individual buildings you should see in Tbilisi, Georgia,the headquarters of Bank of Georgia on the Sanapiro (Quai) in Digomi, built as the Ministry of Means of Communications (i.e. railroads, etc.): the successive floors are almost separate and cantilevered at a 90 degree angle to each other, like superhighway levels at an interchange, assaulting the viewer. Neverthelss, some examples are worth preserving....

  2. Very interesting! I have often heard that there are many great brutalist buildings in eastern Europe (I have never been). There are also many examples in former east Germany, many of which are under threat or have been demolished already. There is a movement for rebuilding buildings in the former classical styles at the expense of the brutalist style, take the royal palace in Berlin which is being built on the site of a former iconic brutalist building. Brutalist architecture is much more under threat abroad than it is in Britain at the moment


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