Unconventional or modern architecture in Durham has to be both in the appropriate location and of the highest standard in order to gain acceptance in our historic city. The University achieved this with Dunelm House, which guards the river gorge and forms a single composition with Kingsgate Bridge. This year the Calman Learning Centre, on the University’s Science Site, has passed the same test and is well deserving of the Trust’s award.
The prominent four-storey building is the focus, not only for the recent Earth Sciences building, from which it springs, but for the whole of the Science Site. In fact, it can be said to preside less over the Science Site than over Science City, for it is a place-making structure, one which creates its own context.
The design is at once both simple yet sophisticated, striking by day, stunning at night. Its innovative round façade of zinc panelling and coloured glazing of varying width stands in contrast to its surrounding neighbours, which are conventionally rectilinear and brick- built. On the top floor the panelling gives way to full glazing, with a surrounding outside verandah sheltered by the circular protruding flat roof. From the verandah is a view of the cathedral comparable to that seen from Mount Joy – if one can avert the eye from straying downwards to the tangle of pipes and flues on the laboratory roofs in the near foreground. Immediately below, however, in front of the building commendable attention has been paid to paved routes and landscaping.
Inside, the round structure lends itself to a series of tiered lecture theatres, the largest seating 400, each named after a distinguished University scholar. Appropriately for the Science Site, also, are the suites of computer terminals – and a ‘technocrat café.’
The impressive structure emanates from Building Design Partnership, winners of the University competition in 2005. Within BDP the design credit belongs initially to John McManus, director of architecture in their Glasgow office. All other aspects were shared by BDP offices. The contractors were Laing O’Rourke of Newcastle, with John Osborne the project manager.
See Bulletin 64, February 2008, for details of this building and other candidates for the award.