By Catherine Yates
Durham University wants to replace Dunelm House Students Union building with a new performance space, which will be open to the public as well as students.
Under the plans, the five-level landmark building would be flattened to make way for the new facility. Historic England advised the award-winning 1960s building be given Grade II listing while architecture campaigners expressed concern that, following the decision by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, it is now facing the bulldozers.
Dunelm House was completed in 1966 by the Architects’ Co-Partnership and engineered by Ove Arup. Ove Arup was born in Heaton, Newcastle Upon-Tyne and was one of the greatest engineers of the 20th Century. Arup played a crucial role in pioneering engineering works worldwide, serving most notably as the designer and supervisor for Durham’s own Kingsgate Bridge (Grade I listed) opened in 1963, and as design engineer for the Sydney Opera House.
Arup, an honorary Geordie, considered Kingsgate Bridge one of the most important projects of his career, requesting that his ashes be scattered from the bridge following his death in 1988. Kingsgate and Dunelm House are physically connected, as a marriage of structures that depend upon each other.
This makes Dunelm House and Kingsgate Bridge two of the most significant structures in the UK, if not Europe, if not the World! And they are on our doorstep in Durham. Dunelm won both a Civic Trust award and the RIBA Bronze Medal 1966. The building has subsequently been praised many times. It needs to be saved as a key piece of Brutalist Architecture.
One of Dunelm House’s greatest features is the views across the gorge of the River Wear towards the World Heritage Site of Durham Cathedral and Castle, and the Arup bridge, framed by the windows and seen from the many terraces that open off the public rooms and stair landings. With some additional service structure added, it is easy to imagine it being repurposed as a conference hotel with an outlook as spectacular as any in the world.
I was a student at Durham University and Dunelm is part of my history. Today I still love walking over Kingsgate Bridge which holds so many wonderful memories for me. It would be devastating to disrupt the riverside and demolish this award-winning building which is so historically and architecturally significant.
We must preserve our heritage. If you agree with me please sign the Save Dunelm House petition.
Catherine Yates 3rd January 2017
More about the Save Dunelm House campaign and on line petition is here
A Durham Advertiser report and historic pictures are here
See also an article in the The Architects’ Journal, “Durham Uni plans global contest to replace Brutalist students union” here
Pictured: images of Dunelm House by Catherine Yates 30th December 2016