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Department of Architecture

Scroope Terrace listed

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced on 16 January that it has revised the list description for Scroope Terrace.  The original terrace of 1839-64 had been listed as a building of special interest since 1972, along with the front railings, but the new list description adds the extension designed by Colin St John Wilson with Alex Hardy in 1958 and opened by Le Corbusier and Henry Moore in 1959.  

The extension houses the Department of Architecture's lecture room and principal crit space on its upper level, with staff offices and a staff common room below. It was constructed following the arrival in Cambridge of Leslie Martin (co-designer of the Royal Festival Hall) in 1956 as Professor of Architecture.  Wilson, who had worked with Martin at the London County Council, joined him as a studio master and Lecturer in Architectural Theory.  Under Martin's leadership, the Department expanded in size and ambition: the Diploma course was for example founded in 1960, and the Centre for Land Use and Built Form Studies (now the Martin Centre) was created to develop a research agenda.

Sandy Wilson's design was described by Reyner Banham as an example of 'extreme intellectual' Modernism. Its planning is based on a rigid geometric module, with both plan and section being shaped by the ratio of the golden section. Visually the building adopted (partly in the name of economy) exposed brick and shuttered concrete. The result recalls Le Corbusier's then-recent Maisons Jaoul, and the design thus stands as an early example of British interest in Le Corbusier's late work. The Corbusian influence is also felt in such details as the centre-pivot doors that separate the spaces at the upper levels. Historians have noted the way in which ideas of plan, section and movement seen in the building reoccur in other works by Wilson, including the British Library at St Pancras. 

The extension remains relatively intact. The lecture room, for example, retains many of its original finishes as well as the mechanically operated shutters that blank out the roof lights during lectures and its tungsten light fittings, dimmable from the lectern, plus its furnishings by Robin Day for Hille. 

Other buildings by Wilson in Cambridge that are listed include Harvey Court on West Road, the William Stone Building at Peterhouse, and the architect's own house on Grantchester Road.  Listing is not a preservation order, but rather a marker that notes what is significant about a building in order that future change might preserve what is important.