Visiting the University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk, England: Ziggurats recalling ancient Mesopotamia
Striking, building block designs
The Ziggurat buildings of the University of East Anglia, by architect Sir Denys Lasdun (1) date from the 1960s. Variously acclaimed as examples of post-War New Brutalist architecture or derided as modern monstrosities, they are certainly highly distinctive.
Relatively 'modern' as they may indeed be, they also strongly recall the style of ziggurats from Ancient Mesopotamia, and the name 'Ziggurats' seem to have stuck, despite their official names Norfolk and Suffolk Terraces. But the buildings themselves are also now nationally commemorated by Grade 2, Listed Building status in the United Kingdom. Interestingly, when the subsequently successful move to have the University's Ziggurat buildings officially listed was mooted, the University itself seemed somewhat hesitant about its own architectural heritage, putting out a rather dampening statement: "We would be concerned if listing brought any extra administration and cost." (2) Surely a remarkably unenthusiastic reaction to commemorating these highly distinctive buildings!
The Ziggurat buildings at UEA (as the University is widely known) superficially resemble building blocks formed into stepping stones in the shape of pyramids, and are noted for their innovative use of concrete.
The 'stepping stone' motif is continued on a large scale at The Square, where students congregate informally, situated at the very centre of the University's site. Close to The Square is an elongated building known as The Teaching Wall.
The University of Bochum, Germany, also has comparably designed buildings.
A much older building, Erlham Hall, dating from 1642, with distinctive Dutch-style gables, was the first structure to be occupied by the University, following its founding in 1963. This building is now used by UEA's Law Faculty.
Through my various visits to UEA over the years, I have been struck by the seeming constant building activity at its site; indeed, at times it can resemble a vast building site. Among the more recent buildings at the University is the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, by Sir Norman Foster.
Over the years these buildings by Sir Denys Lasdun and others have formed a backdrop to distinguished scholarly activity. Alumni of UEA have included: Sir Paul Nurse (1949-), Geneticist, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2001 and President of the Royal Society; Kazuo Ishiguro (1954-), Booker Prizewinning novelist. Distinguished faculty have included: Sir Malcolm Bradbury (1931-2000), Professor of American Studies; Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll (1938-), Vice-Chancellor of UEA and former Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum; Lord Zuckerman (1904-1993), zoologist and scientific advisor; Richard Synge (1914-1994), biochemist and Nobel Prizewinner in Chemistry, 1954; and many others.
Sir Denys Lasdun died in 2001, leaving a much talked about, much admired and even much challenged architectural legacy, of which the Ziggurat buildings at the University of East Anglia are among the most striking examples.
I do wonder, however, whether the architects for the Ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats, labouring under vastly different conditions, would have encountered quite the same kind of observer feedback!
Traditionalists might instinctively relish deriding Architect Lasdun's achievements in concrete. But my guess is that conservatives of various hues might one day end up regarding works such as his UEA Ziggurats as iconic representations of an era not yet hamstrung by sustainability committees and stringent building regulations!
February 19, 2015
(1) Also by Sir Denys Lasdun are the main buildings of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and London University's Institute of Education.
(2) See also: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2003/sep/24/highereducation.news
Also worth seeing
In Norwich itself, the Cathedral, the Castle, the City Hall and the Guildhall attract many visitors, as does picturesque Elm Hill. Pull's Ferry, at the end of the Cathedral Close and beside the Wensum River, was a Medieval hub of river traffic; Cow Tower and Bishop's Bridge are noted sights not far from Pull's Ferry; and many others.
How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Norwich is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. Norwich is 233 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Buses 25 and 26 run regularly to the University of East Anglia from Castle Meadow, in Downtown Norwich. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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