chapter  3
The Cambridge History Faculty Building
Pages 12

In 1985 I was asked to review James Stirling’s recently published Buildings and Projects, where the Cambridge History Faculty building was illustrated in all its pristine splendour. The building was widely admired by architects but not generally by its users: just at the same time the university was debating whether to demolish the twenty-year-old building because of its technical failings. Every architect in Cambridge was particularly aware of its problems, because it was a favourite topic of conversation at collegiate high tables and looked set to remain so for many years to come, if the retentive memory of dons was to continue to the same degree as I had already experienced, as a young university assistant lecturer. At a dinner at Corpus Christi my neighbour turned to me and asked, as if it had been the most recent topic of debate at the Governing Body: “Should we have allowed Wilkins to go neo-Gothic?” He was referring to the college’s New Court, which William Wilkins, the architect of the neo-classical Downing College from 1804, had constructed in neo-Gothic style between 1823 and 1827. It was clear that issues of architectural judgement and patronage were as alive in Cambridge in the twentieth century as they ever had been in the past.