Appleton’s Architects: Building the University of Edinburgh (1949-65)
Fenton, Clive B
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The thesis examines and explains the background events to the architecture of the University of Edinburgh during the years 1949-65, when Sir Edward Appleton was the Principal. The four books that constitute the thesis each take different perspectives on the progress of the post-war expansion project. Appleton had to reconcile Edinburgh's policy to reintegrate dispersed University departments within the city-centre with a rapid and unprecedented and expansion in higher education. Selection of sites was the subject of a prolonged and heated debate, which is related in Book One. Aided by a formidable array of architectural talent, Appleton persuaded the local and national authorities that the controversial George Square development, in tandem with a separate suburban site for science expansion, would produce the most desirable outcome. The second book discusses the style of architecture that was produced, looking at the pre-war background of the Edinburgh School architects: William Kininmonth, Basil Spence, Robert Matthew and Alan Reiach. The influences are traced to Scandinavia and the architects' preoccupation with cultural nationalism. These factors combined with the ethos of reconstruction and the City's ambitions for cultural regeneration to create architecture with a resonance particular to its time and place. How, and why, this is regarded as Festival Style is explained. The academic and social objectives of the Universities, as directed by Humanists and Christians in influential positions, were crucial to the architectural outcome, and these are investigated in Book Three. A large amenity centre was planned for the University area and an important purpose-built halls-of-residence development achieved at a site near the city-centre in consequence of this. Edinburgh's own tradition, emanating from Patrick Geddes, played a significant part in the development of residences and student amenities, particularly the rehabilitation of a large 17th century building in the heart of the Old Town. Finally, in Book Four, the relationships between the architects and the theoretical antipathies they encountered are considered. The University provided a forum for interaction between the architects, with Matthew emerging as the dominant figure, advising Appleton on architecture and planning, and ultimately setting up a University Department of Architecture. For him, the University project was part of a social mission and architecture its tool. Kininmonth, the first post-war architect to the University, was displaced by Matthew's arrival. Spence's approach to urban design was crucial in the realisation of the George Square project, and yet he too was replaced when that was achieved. All of these architects encountered the dichotomies of Modernity and Tradition, and Science vs. Art, though with differing responses. Architects and University ultimately experienced the conflict between pragmatism and idealism. Viewed in its context. the achievement of Appleton was remarkable and, as a result, the University of Edinburgh must be considered the most extraordinary patron of architecture of the period.