Commonly known as the Durham Students’ Union, Dunelm House in Durham UK is facing a very bleak future. The Dept. for Culture Media and Sports (DCMS) told the Architect’s Newspaper (AN) that Secretary of State Karen Bradley has been approached to issue a Certificate of Immunity from Listing (COI). This is a campaign to save the building.
Durham University has applied for a COI in April of last year. They have also launched a competition for redesigning the concrete structure. Last December, Bradley avoided calls from Historic England to award the Brutalist 51-year-old building a Grade II listing status.
The university contends that restoring Dunelm House would be far too expensive, running an estimated $18-million.
Brutalist architecture is a movement in architecture that was popular from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. It descended from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. Peter and Alison Smithson met while studying architecture at Durham University and noted this style of architecture has very deep roots in Durham.
Since the time of its opening, Dunelm House has won the 1966 RIBA Bronze Medal and the Civic Trust Award. The Dept. for Culture Media and Sports (DCMS) announced that through consideration, it has decided that Dunelm House does not meet the historic or special architectural interest required for listing.
Dunelm House was designed by Architects’ Co-Partnership and engineered by Ove Arup. The materials and form used, complimented Arup’s Grade I Kingsgate Bridge which was also completed in 1966. The Kingsgate Bridge has odd details such as chains attached to the concrete for tying the structure down.
The slopes are in harmony with the terrain of the site which dramatically veers down to the River Wear’s banks. There are also incredible views of the 937-year-old Durham Cathedral which rises to incredible heights above trees that form the landscape integrated with the Kingsgate Bridge.
Historic England has stated this building should be listed due to its superb example of the 1960s university architecture. The university’s argument that it would be too expensive to restore falls short of the simple fact that it would be twice as expensive to replace it with anything meaningful. No one seems able to follow the reasoning behind the DCMS overturning the advice of Historic England. Their statement does absolutely nothing to answer questions and concerns.
Dunelm House is an exceptional piece of modern architecture. It’s boldness and originality speaks volumes of the rich culture of the great architectures of its time. The university’s belief that they can construct something, even half as good, at a lower cost than repairing Dunelm House is living in a total fantasy! It’s a significant building that works with and complements its surroundings. It’s aggressive, captures your attention, and is an important part of the River Wear. It offers a peaceful place and the more time one spends there, it evokes something so very friendly.
Why This Building Is So Important
Dunelm House was completed in 1966 by the Architects’ Co-Partnership and engineered by Ove Arup. Arup was born in Heaton, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and was considered one of the greatest engineers of the 20th century. He played an important role in pioneering engineering projects worldwide. He was the designer and supervisor of the Kingsgate Bridge and as the design engineer for the world famous Sydney Opera House.
An Honorary Geordie, Arup believed Kingsgate Bridge was one of the most important projects in his career. He requested his ashes be scattered from the bridge upon his death in 1988.
Dunelm House and Kingsgate are connected as a union of structures that depend on each other. They are the two most significant structures in the United Kingdom if not all of Europe or the entire world. They are at the doorway of Durham so why would anyone want to lose or damage these treasures?
It Is Old, Ugly, Dirty Concrete
It’s concrete and therefore needs to be cleaned. If your home wasn’t cleaned for 50 + years, it wouldn’t look too nice either. The building does need work but the university calculates it will cost £14.7m to restore. Although that might seem like a great deal of money, it’s no more than renovations to other university buildings. Keep in mind what it will cost to demolish it, bury it in a landfill and then rebuild on top of it. Would the land even be sustainable?
The Building Can Not Accommodate New Users
This is simply a statement by the university to justify their master plan to put another building in its place. Of course, there would be a significant investment but their master plan is not justifiable with their existing building plans. Wouldn’t it be wiser to adjust the master plan instead of trying to put a round peg into a square hole?
Demolition is highly unsustainable, wasteful, and very costly both environmentally and financially. That should be the very last resort when everything else fails. The building is not falling down, it’s a testimonial to one of the greatest engineers of the 20th century!
The Roof Leaks
All roofs leak at some point in time. Your modern roofs are only guaranteed for 20 years. Dunelm House’s roof is over 50-years old. It needs a new roof just like so many other buildings! The university has been aware of this condition for well over 10 years and now it’s time to fix it!
It Costs Too Much To Repair
Durham University has estimated redesign and repairs would cost at least £14.7m. With an interior of 3,980 sqm, it is estimated the cost would reach £3600 per sqm. Although that might seem steep, the cost for the Durham University’s new Ogden Center for Fundamental Physics costs £11.5m per sqm, that was a staggering £4,640 per sqm!
A completely new building on top of Dunelm House will cost millions more due to demolition , disposal of Dunelm House into a landfill, numerous complexities of the site due to terrain, retaining walls, structural requirements, and access issues that will make the project very complex and very costly. Refurbishing the current building will be a great deal cheaper than a new building.
A New Building Will Make Durham A World Class City
Durham is already a world class university city! Its diverse architecture over the past millennium includes the 20th century. The university is a huge patron of modern architecture, especially during the 60s. Why fix something that is not broken? Why undo great architecture and lose it forever?
Look at very successful refurbishments to modernist buildings such as Park Hil in Sheffield (Hawkins Brown) or the Barbican in London (AHMM) completed just 10 years ago. Both are successful projects, prestigious, award-winning, high profile, world class buildings that have celebrated the value of the Twentieth Century Architecture. New is not always better! Keep Durham on the world class stage. New and modern will not work but will simply remove Durham from its current position!
A petition to help save the building is available online and naturally, there is a Save Dunelm House Twitter page.