Durham: a city of contradictions

By and

The indomitable cathedral is an unmissable sightseeing spot for any Durham student – yet a new visit this autumn will prove an illuminatory experience. Luke Jerram’s world-renowned ‘Museum of the Moon’ exhibition has landed in Durham Cathedral having previously wowed audiences in Barcelona, Sydney and Hong Kong, to name a few. Suspended beneath the cathedral’s central tower, Jerram’s 7 metre replica of the moon is an ode to the mysterious celestial body that has inspired humanity for hundreds of years.

The glowing luminescent of the moon adds to an ethereal aura which permeates Durham Cathedral.

Created using detailed NASA imagery of the lunar surface, the artwork satisfyingly collides together the heights of astronomical research with creativity and applauds the power of humanity to create both large architectural masterpieces and revolutionary scientific discoveries. Additionally these two sides seem to be in mutual partnership as the illuminated structure quite literally shines the light onto the impressive stonework in the nave, meanwhile displaying the exhibition in the cathedral allows that certain ambience found in places of worship. It is simultaneously jarring but ethereal to turn a corner into the nave and see the huge structure suspended amongst the pews and lecterns. The spherical shape and NASA digital imaging directly juxtapose the interior of the cathedral yet, the glowing luminescence of the moon adds to an ethereal aura which permeates Durham Cathedral.

Amassing long queues outside the cathedral, Jerram’s exhibition is proving to be extremely popular already since opening in mid September. While to some visitors the exhibition may simply be an aesthetic Instagram post, the real artistry of bringing Jerram’s work to Durham Cathedral belongs in how we interpret any inter-reliance and connection between the art, ourselves and the setting as a collective.

The Cathedral housing this acclaimed exhibition stands tall alongside the boldest structures in Durham, a city famous for its architecture fusing tradition and modernity. The stunning Gothic interior dates back nearly a thousand years – yet remains impactful – its intricate maze of arches and vaults creating a timeless grandeur. The exterior’s flying buttresses and enormous arcs are equally elaborate, exuding conviction and authority. With an envious hilltop location, it can appear the perfect place to catch a view of the city, but Durham folklore dictates students who climb the tower won’t graduate, which probably isn’t worth it. Luckily an ornate design, that has dazzled since the Norman era, will leave you with plenty to enjoy from your favourite Palace Green spot in the meantime.

On the flip side of Durham’s architectural coin is the divisive Dunelm House. This self-effacing structure recently received Grade II protection, so love it or loath it, it’s here to stay. Designed to be as simplistically functional as possible, Dunelm is the centre for the Students’ Union and faces off the Cathedral from across the river – making for an intense staring contest between two contrasting times and tastes. The monolithic design undeniably recalls the worst of Hull and Coventry, but its historical significance, if not concrete-heavy appearance, means it remains an essential stop on any architectural tour of Durham. 

An intense staring contest between two contrasting times and tastes

This divide is replicated across collegiate accommodation. The Bailey is elegantly Edwardian, showcasing symmetrical designs, stone exteriors, and in some cases, quaint front gardens. The Hill, by contrast, boasts a plethora of strikingly modern and postmodern architecture. For instance, Trevelyan is a hexagonal display of bare-faced concrete and empty windows, while Josephine Butler combines traditional and contemporary fashions – walls of glass, open floorplans and building materials from different eras. The results are striking and diverse, making a tour of Durham like walking down a timeline of British tastes. It’s beautiful and charming in a unique sort of way – and bound to make an impression on any new student.

Illustration: Anna Kuptsova

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