The pleasure of ruins
When I was first an undergraduate at Newnham (back in 1973), the cool place to live in college was the new "Strachey Building" (evocative pictures here -- some thanks to Debbie Whittaker): it was modern (put up in the lat 1960s), it had student rooms arranged as 'flats', and it had handbasins in every room. I never lived there myself, and indeed when I got a real chance to choose, I had opted for the period Victorian that gave Newnham its distinctive appeal. But in my first year, more than 40 years ago "Strachey" seemed the height of my aspirations.
Now it is being demolished, to make way for a more modern, more fit for purpose, more aesthetically pleasing block.
There are many reasons for this. Mostly, the 1960s building was at the end of its natural life, from the flat roof to the lifts (you can see the problems here). I was among the majority who voted for its demolition. All the same, the ruination of a building that you had once partly inhabited (Strachey housed the college bar, inter alia) is a strange experience. These new ruin images give you a hint of the piquancy of the story. They are as loaded as any 18th century images of ruins are . . . the haunting desolation, the fragmentariness of human habitation, the sites of pleasure literally undermined.
Yet I also can't resist reflecting on a change of culture, and changing expectancies for the life history of a building. Most of my beautiful college is more than a century old. The bit that is being pulled down is the newest. I dont know how long it was expected to last when it was first put up. Was it really only 50 years?
Maybe. But I could wish that we were all building for longer. My Cambridge is still King's College Chapel, standing for centuries. Yet my college is demolishing a building less than 50 years old, and the university is developing a site in West Cambridge that will be time expired before the century is out.
Is it too much to think that in Cambridge we can build the buildings that will be tourist attractions in 500 years time?
OK there are some on the Sidgwick Site, but we need more.