Arup In Wonderland – Durham

The last structure that Ove Arup designed himself was the award-winning reinforced concrete Kingsgate Footbridge in Durham, England.

Completed in 1963, Arup considered this bridge his finest work. He planned every detail, including the unusual way it was constructed. The need for scaffolding on the river was eliminated by casting the bridge in two halves, one for each bank. The halves were then swivelled out from the banks to meet. 

The two halves pivoted on revolving cones, their meeting point marked by an understated bronze expansion joint. Bearings were designed at the base of each part to allow rotation, robust but cheap enough to be used only once. 

This elegant example of simple mechanical engineering provided tense moments for the team while the spans were turned and connected. 

John Martin, project manager for the bridge, said:

“Ove never seemed to worry that anything might go wrong. That was fine, it just meant that one felt fully responsible for seeing that it didn’t. But he got quite cross when the contractor took a few, to Ove’s view unnecessary, steps to make doubly sure that construction went smoothly. I think that to him it was a question of spoiling the elegance of the idea”.

arup.com

I’m ever so fond of concrete footbridges, in fact I have written about our local exemplar.

And have taken great pleasure in teaching and preaching whilst atop such.

So it was with some degree of excited anticipation, that I strode eagerly toward Ove’s bridge – a bridge guaranteed to raise a smile, enchanted by its elegance and audacity.

Over we go headlong and fancy free into this black and white concrete world.

Crossing over into colourful off-white world of university life.

Dunelm House was designed by Richard Raines and Michael Powers of the Architects Co-Partnership, and completed in 1966 under the supervision of architect Sir Ove Arup, whose adjacent Kingsgate Bridge opened two years earlier. Built into the steeply sloping bank of the River Wear, Dunelm House is notable internally for the fact that the main staircase linking all five levels of the building runs in an entirely straight line. This was intended by the building’s architects to create the feeling of an interior street.

Wikipedia

In 1968 Dunelm House won a Civic Trust award. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner considered the building:

Brutalist by tradition but not brutal to the landscape, the elements, though bold, are sensitively composed. 

Durham City Council’s Local Plan notes that the powerful building, together with Kingsgate Bridge.

Provides an exhilarating pedestrian route out into open space over the river gorge.

Public views were divided from the start, with a local newspaper in 1966 reporting views ranging from:

The third best looking building in the city to a – monstrosity. 

The Observer in 2017 reported that students called it:

That ugly concrete building.

I was delighted to hear that the Student Union building’s first musical performance was given by Thelonius Monk.

Let’s have a look at that ugly building.

With the city’s least ugliest building in view.

Of special interest to all lovers of substations and shelters is the neat little substation and shelter mash-up over the road.

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