17 December 2009
A centenary architecture exhibition tells a fascinating story of the University through its buildings.
University buildings make a real difference to the cities in which they are built and Bristol is no exception; the city is strewn by buildings that have been given to, bought or commissioned by the University to house its centres of academic excellence.
To mark the University’s centenary and in celebration of its contribution to the architecture of the city, a public exhibition — The University of Bristol’s buildings: past, present and future — was held in the Architecture Centre, from 1 July to 31 August 2009. Crowds flocked to the Centre to find out more about the story of the University told through its fascinating buildings.
The architecture of University buildings is diverse. It takes us on a journey through the ages, from some of the finest Georgian architecture in Bristol with Clifton Hill House (1746) and Royal Fort House (1758-61), to the ultra-modern — the recently opened Centre for Quantum Information and Nanoscience (2009). On the way we visit University buildings from all eras, including the Wills Memorial Building (1925), the last great secular Gothic building to be built in the UK and home to many ceremonial University events, the purpose-built style of the 1960s Student Union, as well as more contemporary designs of newer buildings, such as the Centre for Synthetic Chemistry (1999). The buildings tell the story of the University’s development and its relationship with local people through their lasting architectural imprint on Bristol’s cityscape.
“University buildings are very close to people’s hearts,” said Parviz Partow, Director of the University’s Estates Operations “For example, they link past students to the University today, through buildings with which they have a personal connection from when they were studying.”
Parviz was particularly struck by two former geography students who had resided in Manor Hall visiting the exhibition. It prompted them to relive some of their student days, sharing stories of their experiences and how different it is today.
Curated by architectural historian Sarah Whittingham, herself a Bristol graduate, the exhibition presented buildings, gardens and interiors through text, images and 3-dimensional models, complemented by a film history of the University’s architecture. It also displayed the master plan for the future development of the University precinct.
“The buildings provide a historical timeline of how the University has developed and how it has benefited from its close relationship with the public, some of whom have donated buildings,” Parviz continued. “It is also interesting for the public to see the plans for the University’s future development.”
Visitors included school groups, former alumni, architects and surveyors as well as people who were just interested. It also helped forge a strong relationship between the University and the Architecture Centre.
Parviz and his team feel honoured to be responsible for an exceptional group of University buildings. He said “It is important that the University continues to invest in good design for its buildings as they live on in the memories of staff and students alike. Architecture touches the lives of people who live and study within and around the buildings; we are all affected by it . We can bring the role of University buildings to life for members of the public by events such as this centenary exhibition.”
University buildings will always have an impact on cities. What’s important is the quality of design and the understanding that the Universities are here for a very long time. And the buildings should reflect that.