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Ian Ritchie on Oxford and Cambridge drips

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‘The Leak’, or keeping the water out, has haunted modern architecture ever since the flat roof of modernism

‘The Leak’, or keeping the water out, has haunted modern architecture ever since the flat roof of modernism, and the Red Trilogy has become synonymous with environmental failure – excessive heat or cold, air and water leaks. The chattering students at Oxford and Cambridge let it be known that these were uncomfortable buildings to inhabit, and the boldness and scale of these abstract forms would have left many people perplexed, even upset. The buildings recall the furore around the insertion of the I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre – bold and in ‘hallowed’ place, despite its classical form.

These works of brick and glass, coupled with the expressive use of exposed concrete and the Smithson’s brutalism of the same period, invoked a public disdain for the architecture of the period. Regrettably the technical failure of the functional aspects, whether it was the internal environment felt by the users or the leaky envelope of the building, undermined what little faith the public had in modernism.

All text is extracted from Jim Stirling and the Red Trilogy – Three Radical Buildings,  Frances Lincoln, October 2010, £30

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