A recent trip to Durham – my first – was a feast of visual inspiration. I’ll be talking about some of the city’s more recent developments in a forthcoming post, but the trip included two architectural highlights that I had long been relishing.
One was the cathedral, which delivers in spades. There is something about the Romanesque style that is very powerful and elemental, and there can be few better places to experience 11th and 12th century architecture than at Durham Cathedral.
The simple geometric decoration applied to the main columns of Durham’s nave is truly gobsmacking. I was lucky enough to experience a concert given by The Sixteen (thanks to the Knit Nurse for a wonderful birthday present) and the combination of polyphonic choral singing and Norman architecture was unforgettable.
It’s just a shame that you aren’t allowed to take photos in the cathedral. Something to do with religion, apparently…
The visit also offered the chance to fulfill a long-held ambition to see the grade 1 listed Kingsgate footbridge at first hand. I first heard about this bridge back when I was at school, during a few weeks of work experience for Arup (then Ove Arup and Partners) at their Coventry office. Famously designed by Ove himself, the crossing was completed in 1963. The two spans were built on either riverbank and then rotated into position, the gap between them expressed by a beautiful bronze expansion joint. It’s a remarkable piece of modernist design – conceived by Arup as ‘total architecture’ – and still looks fantastic nearly 50 years after the first pedestrians used it to cross the Wear.
Alas, the same can’t be said for the student union building next door, which is showing quite severe signs of wear and tear, including concrete spalling, revealing the steel reinforcement underneath. Nevertheless, Dunelm House (as it’s properly known) is a pleasing piece of 1960s brutalism, designed by the Architects Co-Partnership and engineered by, you’ve guessed it, Ove Arup.
You can read the Knit Nurse’s account of the weekend here>