Should Durham students learn to love Dunelm House? – Palatinate

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By Connie Doxat

Durham University students love a good debate. From the long-running Hill-Bailey rivalry to controversial outside speakers and whether brunch at Flat White is really worth staying forty minutes in the cold for – we boast our fair share of disagreements. One debate, however, that the dust seems to have really settled on within the student body is the general disfavor towards our Student Union building.

Our rejection of the eyesore that is our SU certainly comes with some reason from the student’s perspective. The building is to begin with quite simply massive; its five-story, maze-like layout easily leaves one dazed wondering what level you’re actually on. Many choose to take issue with the building’s aesthetic appearance (particularly unpopular when viewed from across the river) from where its laminated concrete slabs look like a multi-storey car park slowly sliding down the banks of the River Wear. Others simply object to the building’s existence because of the irrelevant role it seems to play in their lives and the overall student experience. “What is really going on in this huge concrete building? is a common question that can be heard when students rush to New Elvet late for class.

One debate, however, that the dust seems to have really settled on within the student body is the general disfavor towards our Student Union building.

It’s not just the student body that seems to have struggled to develop an affection for this building over the years. Durham University itself actually launched a bid in 2016 to immunize the building against future listing – a move intended to allow its demolition and contribute to its major property overhaul project 2015-2025. Public opinion has also remained quite unsympathetic to the building’s place in the otherwise preserved jumble of medieval streets, picturesque bridges and ancient Durham Cathedral. Audience comments range from optimistic “maybe they should consider ivy” to downright dismissive, comparing it to a “gloomy, dark concrete rabbit” or nothing more than “ugly concrete anthrax.” “.

However, despite the onslaught of acrimony it has faced over the years, Dunelm House (as the building is officially known) is certainly not without admiration. In fact, Durham University’s attempt to demolish the disputed building in 2016 was met with fierce opposition and sparked a wave of enthusiasm and reconciliation towards the extraordinary significance of the building’s design. An impressive campaign to save the building (mainly led by Historic England and the architectural group, The Twentieth Century Society) soon

attracted a large audience. The campaign even led to the birth of an international conference, titled “Caring for Brutalism”, held at Dunelm House itself in 2017. The conference aimed to highlight the great civic value vested in our structures brutalists across the country, highlighting the National Theater and London Barbican as prime examples. The case for preserving the building has been made so convincingly that after years of campaigning, Dunelm actually secured an impressive Grade II listing in July 2021.

Durham University’s attempt to demolish the disputed building in 2016 was met with fierce opposition and sparked an outpouring of excitement

Still, if you’re still not convinced that these large, interlocking concrete cubes will aesthetically grow on you (and I don’t think you’d be alone in that case), then perhaps the architectural significance of the building can help you. tilt to accept its place on the Durham skyline. Despite being built in 1966 at the height of brutal building frenzies, Dunelm House established itself as one of the boldest and boldest exhibits of the era, earning it the prestigious Civic Trust Award in 1968. The building’s gravity-defying design further helped raise its profile, and architects Richard Raines and Michael Powers were praised for the main staircase which remarkably succeeds in connecting the five floors in a single straight line – intended to give l impression of an “inner street”.

Equally impressive is how the building acted as a beacon for Durham’s music scene in the 1960s and 1970s. The building’s unusual design, coupled with its unabashed size, allowed it to act as a venue for atmospheric concert and saw bands such as Pink Floyd and Procol Harum fill its cavernous concrete walls with their music at the time.

So, while the jury is still out on its style, a verdict on Dunelm House remains certain – with its new Grade II listed status requiring that ‘every effort should be made to preserve it’, the building should remain standing. these monolithic concrete foundations for some time to come. For this reason, perhaps it would be best for all of us to learn to love our unique student association a little more?

Image: Amana Moore

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