Context 151 - September 2017

C O N T E X T 1 5 1 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 7 39 GRAHAM TITE Buildings, lawns, gardens, wilderness The quality of the city of Cambridge owes as much to its celebrated open spaces as to the architectural uniqueness of its university buildings and churches. Cambridge sets before us in a more compact grouping than in any other place in Britain the widest possible choice of buildings for their dates of origin, layouts, architectural styles and materials. The locations are at churches of all periods as well as the numerous college sites and those of the ancient university itself. Around the market at the city’s heart are remnants of early commerce, now mainly replaced with new structures put up to serve as a shopping hub for the region. All of this can engage the viewer for decades.Themeaning and the value of the spaces in between the buildings, most of themgreen in someway, have been illuminated by recent work on the history of one of the places of learning:Westcott House in Jesus Lane.This has led me to appreciate how Cambridge is to be understood for its landscapes. The eternal image is of ranges of academic buildings looking inwards to central, well-kept lawns. Such spaces are treeless, although planted beds and creepers on the surrounding walls may soften the effect in various places. Several scenes, such as in the First Courts of Emmanuel College and of Peterhouse, present a chapel frontage to dramatic effect by starkly framing it with lawn, stone and sky. Purism and symmetry such as this are challenging. We can look at the many alternatives that have been thrown up over the years to meet the challenge. Richard Lyne’s bird’s-eye view (1574) presents the whole of Cambridge in a single, astonishing view. David Loggan’s set of views of individual college groups followed in 1690. These unique records both have the great advantage of combining architectural plan with elevation in a single image. These two engraved depictions cover the vital period that began with the emergence of collegiate development at the close of the middle ages when the reformation transformed former monasteries into halls of residence for clerics, scholars and their pupils. By the end of the 17th century this change had largely been completed and the formula for the layout of the sixteen ancient foundations was well established. Their ground plans are a set of alternative solutions based on a single theme. No two are exactly alike but they all share a common purpose. The aim was to build a self-contained community around a cloistered space for worship, eating, working in a library, and living, studying and teaching in an apartment. These activities were to be combined in a form both economical and dignified. Open space had a role to play in this potentially crowded and dangerous environment. When Enlightenment individualism took over by degrees from the original, communal lifestyle of monastic simplicity, the buildings gradually grew in grandeur.The garden took on much more importance. To illustrate this we can compare Lyne’s view of ‘Gray Friars’ with Loggan’s view of Sidney Sussex College, as the same site had become from its refoundation in 1596. Westcott House Old Court Lawn (Photo:Westcotthouse, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons. wikimedia.org/w/index. php?curid=50727650)

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