Blot on the Historic Townscape

King’s Lane Development, Cambridge, UK (1967)  – Architect: James Cubitt & Partners 

There are so many third-rate modern buildings around they just blend into the background, but sometimes you come across one that is so crass, ugly, and ridiculous that you just have to wonder what was going through the designer’s head. Walking along Trumpington Street, the main historic route through Cambridge, this monstrosity stopped me in my tracks.

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This is the visible part of a large development of student accommodation behind the street which emerges into a space between two old college buildings in honey coloured stone, part of King’s College. It has absolutely no relationship with either in proportions, materials, detailing and everything else you can think of. Insensitive is the mildest adjective to describe this building. It is hideous and crude in every single respect and is just the sort of miserable 1960s edifice that made everyone loathe architects. King’s College is equally to blame for being persuaded at the presentation that this awful design would be suitable for this historic site and not sacking Cubitts on the spot. The planners of this era would approve any old rubbish as long as it was ‘modern’ so no surprise there.

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The design concept for this elevation is mystifying. Perhaps the parapet used to line up with the building on the left before the roof extension, and presumably the giant bay is meant to reflect the corner turret of its Victorian neighbour. Are the badly stained recessed lines in the facade meant to be a nod to the rustication of its classical neighbour? Not sure what the tatty looking grey metal windows and panels have been inspired by – the extension of the mullions into little spikes above the roof was presumably meant to liven up the roof line, who knows? The mullions also do a great job of staining the facade below them. And presumably the stone was chosen to match the limestone of King’s College Chapel and its neighbours up the road instead of the ones next door? In fact, I am giving some credit to the architects for thinking about ‘context’ when of course in that dismal era of British Modernism it was a dirty word. The entire aim of this building was to show utter contempt for its old neighbours. At least it isn’t listed so there is some hope it could be demolished and replaced with something more sensitive in the future.

Unfortunately Cubitts is still a large multi-disciplinary practice spreading its vile designs around the world, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. Check out this link to get an idea:

http://www.jamescubittandpartners.com/#!__offices/cairo

The practice is obviously not ashamed of its work at King’s Lane which is still shown on its website!

King’s College shows how much it thinks of one of its most illustrious alumni, Alan Turing, by putting up a blue plaque in his honour, not on one of the many beautiful walls it owns but on the revolting stained flanks of this eyesore which wasn’t even built when he was alive.

 

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