Sunday, 3 August 2014

University College

The University College was designed by E J McCoy and built in 1969, commissioned by the University of Otago. 

University College when it first opened in 1969

Despite spending a lot of my time around this area of town, I never paid too much attention to the twin buildings which tower over the university campus. If anything I believed they looked outdated and relatively unattractive. But since I've been working on this project I've definitely developed a new appreciation for the buildings and their design. 
     When I went to visit the building I was unexpectedly given an extensive tour by the Deputy Master Bob Cochrane. He was more than happy to share some history of the building, and he took me around to see everything from the old Masters office, up the the roof of the South Tower, and even down into the service rooms below ground. Bob has worked at the University College for 20 years, and when I asked what he thought of the buildings and their design he said "I love it, I do."

One of the first things I noticed were the diagonal geometric pattern of the staircases on the sides of each tower, which is art in itself. I think this is my favourite part of each building. 

The stairs on the North Tower as seen from the roof of the South Tower

Another eye catching feature of the buildings are the distinctive objects atop each building. The two asymmetrical objects on each tower are plant rooms for the elevators. The higher, symmetrical feature is a chimney for the service rooms down below the buildings which supply each tower with hot water and heating. It was interesting seeing these from up close, and they appeared a lot smaller from the roof than they do from the ground. 

A lot has changed within the building since 1969. Most of these changes occurred as a result of poor design. Such as moving the staircase within the main foyer to the side because it was "In the way" and replacing the concrete panels which used to adorn the front of each room because of chunks of concrete coming loose and falling off. They also used to have a problem with the front doors and rear doors of the administration block creating a wind tunnel through the foyer. 
     But there are still a lot of things which have remained unchanged. Throughout the rooms of the administration block you'll find a lot of Rimu, mostly on ceilings and walls. Two main interior features which also remain the same are the fire pit in the main common room and the architecturally elaborate ceilings in the common room and dining hall. 

The main common room

The ceiling in the Dining Hall 

A hallway in the administration block, featuring a lot of Rimu, cinder blocks and skylights.

From when the college first opened up until the 1980's, the college was segregated, with males in the South Tower and females in the North Tower. Each tower is almost identical. The rooms are all singles, and reasonably small; typical of a college dorm. Every floor has shared bathrooms and laundry, and even old "telephone rooms" which don't appear to be used much anymore. Each floor also has it's own common room, these are the larger, partially separated units on the left side of each tower. On top of each tower sits a "Penthouse Suite", which accommodate professors and important visitors from time to time. These rooms were my favourite. They were made up of two small rooms (and an en-suite), one atop the other and connected with a small spiral staircase. The bedroom and en-suite makeup the top level, and a small living space makes up the bottom level. The bedroom the smaller, square room on the roof, which you can see from the ground. The individual rooms have amazing views of the city.  

Spiral staircase in the Penthouse Suite 

As I walked around the building I got a really good sense of the Modernist aspects of the college. The main thing being the excessive amount of cinder block walls, a feature I have to admit I've always disliked. There was a lot of rough concrete, exposed woodwork and uncovered pipes. Grid patterns and 90 degree angles are prevalent in the exterior design. It is clear that the architect painstakingly thought out every detail and every material used, even down to the light shades.

Laura Davies

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