The master plan for the University of Cambridge’s postwar modern campus on Sidgwick Avenue was designed by Hugh Casson and Neville Conder starting in 1952. According to Casson and Conder’s design, the campus was to be organized around a series of quadrangles formed by linear blocks. The centrepiece of the campus was the “Raised Faculty Building”, an open three-sided cloister of rectangular buildings on stilts that the architects likened to the “High Table” of a college dining hall.
Initially housing the Modern Languages, English and Moral Sciences faculties, the Raised Faculty Building was only one of a handful of constructions that followed Casson and Conder’s original design. Land disputes prevented the university from acquiring some of the plots required for the campus as planned, and compromises had to be made. When the land was eventually acquired, the master plan authors had ceded their place to other architects, whose designs deviated from the quadrangles originally envisioned.
Completed in 1961, the Raised Faculty Building however provides an illustration of Casson and Conder’s vision. The “table” formed by concrete pillars supports three-storey blocks of halls, seminar rooms, offices and a library for each faculty. There, two floors are joined in atria and mezzanines lit by large windows, along which work tables are installed. Where bookshelves line the walls, light is provided by alternating vertical and horizontal narrow windows. Similarly, the north facade features a narrow clerestory window that reaches through the centre of the library thanks to the clever placement of mezzanines. This arrangement evidently did not impress architecture critics Nicholas Taylor and Philip Booth, who derided it as “extraordinarily arbitrary and illogical“. At the very least, the varying window shapes make the organization of the building easily readable from the outside.
Among the libraries situated within the Raised Faculty Building is that of the Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics. There, long work tables line the windows opening towards the courtyard, where students can benefit from the comfort of natural light and the distraction offered by the sight of their peers milling in the grass underneath. On the other side of the library, the view is to the paved plaza bookended by two other libraries, Sir James Stirling’s 1968 Seeley Historical Library and Foster + Partners’ 1996 Squire Law library.
The images shown here date from my visits to Cambridge in October 2021 and July 2022.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!