31 March 2009

Modernist Building at St John’s College Cambridge is Listed

The Cripps building, designed by Powell and Moya in the 1960s, has been listed at Grade II* by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on the advice of English Heritage.

The Cripps Building at St. Johns College Cambridge

Designed by Powell and Moya in the 1960s

This Modernist building was constructed at St John’s College, Cambridge between 1964 and 1967 on an awkward site between the Grade I listed New Court and the Grade I listed 12th century School of Pythagoras.

The zig-zag plan concrete building contains accommodation based around eight staircases, with twelve penthouse studios with roof terraces at the top of the building. The building is raised above the ground with a cloistered area beneath it. The structural design for the Cripps building was very innovative at the time and this has contributed to the decision to list the building.

Roger Bowdler, Head of Designation at English Heritage, commented: "Powell and Moya successfully brought a boldly modern approach to this highly sensitive setting at one of Cambridge’s major colleges. The ingenuity behind the design, and its clever use of materials, sets the Cripps building way apart from most university buildings of the 1960s. It survives well and remains an exemplar of how ancient and modern can happily coexist.  We’re delighted this has been recognised through listing."

Responding to the announcement, Catherine Croft, Director of The Twentieth Century Society, said: "This is excellent news.  This is an outstanding post war building, beautifully composed and constructed.  It has a picturesque quality which demonstrates a very humane and romantic side of modernism.   With a refurbishment already underway, it is good for all concerned that its status has been officially recognised."

Powell and Moya

The critically acclaimed Modernist architects Powell and Moya who designed the building were also responsible for many other buildings which are now listed. Their 1960s addition to Brasenose College Oxford is also listed at Grade II* but they are perhaps best known for the Churchill Gardens housing scheme in London, and the iconic 1950s Skylon which formed part of the Festival of Britain.

The building at St John’s College, Cambridge takes its name from the donor that funded it, the Cripps Foundation. C H Cripps graduated from the college in 1959 and in the same year gave £75,000 towards a new college building.

Jo Moore, a Case Worker at the Twentieth Century Society was recently a student living in the building. She said: "The spacious rooms are popular with students, and light, comfortable and inspiring to live in – most people assumed it had been listed years ago, its quality was so self evident.  The roof terrace is renowned as the best place to revise in the summer."

The building received a RIBA award in 1967 and a Civic Trust award in 1968. In 1967 The Architects Journal considered it 'One of the largest and finest pieces of college development in Cambridge since the war'.

In April a book on the Powell & Moya practice will be published. It is part of a series of books on 20th Century Architects commissioned by RIBA Publishing, English Heritage and The Twentieth Century Society. It is written by the eminent architectural author and critic Kenneth Powell and is available from the RIBA bookshop.