Durham’s Grand Designs

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The colleges of Durham University contain a diverse range of architectural styles and materials, from the more traditional architectural styles found on the Bailey to the modern, functionalist Hill colleges, built specifically for the purpose of accommodating students.

Functionalist style Collingwood, built in 1971-3 by architect Richard Shepherd (also responsible for the design of Churchill College, Cambridge), attempts to integrate with landscape in which it is set. Two wings made up of square blocks of brown brick dominate the space and sprawl down the Hill towards the Botanic Garden. The interior uses space effectively with students accommodated in blocks of ten study bedrooms arranged tightly around a stairwell. A separate en-suite area was added later in the early 1990s as well as an amphitheatre-style turning circle at the entrance to the college.

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Trevelyan College

Designs for functionalist buildings like Collingwood were based on what the building was going to be used for and were particularly popular in the USSR. Similarly, the modernist movement began in the 1920s with architects such as Le Corbusier designing buildings with a focus on the expression of structural elements outside the building (rather than hiding them within as had been done before). Both architectural styles concentrated on the elimination of unnecessary detail from the exterior of the building.

Another Hill college built in this modernist style is Trevelyan, constructed from hexagonal blocks, in brown brick with dark, timber window frames, arranged around a central courtyard. It opened in 1968, the same year that it won a Civic Trust Award for innovative architecture. Again, a functionalist design can be seen, with bedrooms located within the hexagonal blocks, which are interlinked by a core corridor, utilising the space effectively.

St Mary’s has a more formal and grand exterior with less concern for effective use of space. It overlooks the city and is made up of two stone, 1950s, neoclassical buildings set in landscaped grounds. It is the only college constructed entirely in this domestic-classical style. It was, however, originally founded in a different location on Elvet Hill and is the only Hill college to have been founded in the 19th century (as a women’s college, which it remained until 2005 when it became fully mixed).

The majority of college buildings found on the Bailey are far older than those on the Hill with some of them even possessing listed building status. Most of the buildings housing the colleges were not purpose built and therefore vernacular architecture can be seen.

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St John’s College

The houses of the South Bailey contain some interesting examples of Georgian vernacular architecture. Number 1 (St John’s), built in around 1730, is made of dressed stone with seven bay windows and a wide pilastered stone door case. One of the most interesting examples is Number 3, a Georgian townhouse slightly set back from the road. It was built at around the same time and in a similar style to Number 1 for the aristocratic Eden family. Features such as a dressed stone façade (houses of the time were usually brick) and a grand staircase (with Corinthian column newel posts), reflect the social status of its inhabitants. These houses are interconnected with unusual staircases, one of which leads nowhere, other than into a wall.

On the North Bailey, Hatfield was established as a college in 1846. The first formal buildings to be used for college accommodation were constructed here in 1849 from stone and an accommodation block in a neo-Georgian style was later added in 1932. The dining room dates back to 17th century and during the 18th century housed a coaching inn, The Red Lion. An original 17th century fireplace (taken from the dining room) is now housed in the Durham Town Hall.

Dating even further back than this is medieval Durham Castle, which has been home to University College since 1837. The college was the first and ‘founding’ college of the University. William Van Mildert (Prince Bishop of Durham), a founding member of the University, gave the college its location within the castle. Until then the castle had been home to Prince Bishops of Durham since the 11th century. When the college moved in, the Prince Bishop moved to Auckland Castle. The Great Hall, originally built in 1284 and altered slightly in the early 1500s, acts as the college dining room whilst the Norman gallery (used to accommodate students) displays 18th century Gothic windows and houses a small Norman chapel (dating from around 1070) at one end.

Trevelyan College  Photo by Venus Loi
Trevelyan College

This small selection of colleges containing architectural features spanning many centuries reminds us, as students, of the rich architectural heritage and history of our University.

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