As a consequence of the RIBA's Architecture Week, I was invited to Impington Village College for a guided tour. This proved to be an inspiring visit to Walter Gropius' best-known building in England (not forgetting Max Fry's contribution). Not only was I impressed by the college's knowledge of the history of the school, but also the importance of the building's integrity.
It therefore disturbed me to hear of the frustration warden Jackie Kearns encountered in trying to maintain the original building, despite her and her staff 's best efforts.
I noticed how the original open curved walkway to the warden's office had been bricked in (in the early 1950s). Opening the windows on both sides of the office to allow a gentle cross breeze had been negated by this intervention. The large electric fan proved to be a poor substitute.As a counterpoint to the cooling problem, I was informed about the latest scheme to install radiators to replace the original underfloor heating, which was in desperate need of repair. Limited funding has been forthcoming from English Heritage, which feels that surface-mounted radiators will suffice because replacing the underfloor heating will involve lifting the existing floor.
I am perturbed by either one of two possible explanations:
firstly that there are serious budgetary limitations on a Grade I-listed building of this importance. I am, though, thankful that it has not been subjected to a second-rate architectural television lottery. The second is even more disturbing. The inference is that the flooring cannot be replaced to its original design and condition.
Hopefully I am incorrect, but this implies that we do not have the skilled artisans in Europe to undertake such delicate work.
This building demands to be preserved in an uncompromised manner. I am concerned that not only the heating, but also the lighting, panelling, doors and landscaping are being replaced by inappropriate solutions. The college has exhausted all means of accessing funding, including a Lottery grant.
How are we to 'save'Gropius' masterpiece? An obvious starting point would be to have the building properly surveyed and recorded before other changes are made (this could make an interesting student project - I know there would be many eager helping hands on site).
I believe it to be our duty to our profession to preserve and restore the building to its former self. To stand by and see it stripped of its features, design and architectural integrity would be a loss for future generations as well as our own.
Anthony Cooper, director, Constructionline