The Spaceship

| Modern * York |

It’s been accused of being the "ugliest building in Britain". But whether you love or hate the post-war obsession with concrete you can always find beauty in brutalism.


York’s only spaceship (and the University’s Central Hall) hovers over the campus lake, standing strong as an icon of 20th century modernism. And it is now Grade II listed, so it won’t be flying off anywhere soon.

Central Hall was built just after the University first opened in the 1960s by the architectural firm RMJM (who also designed Bath University), and its iconic half-octagonal bold character marked a new era of university building design in Modern Britain. The use of concrete allowed the architects to create a geometric open auditorium space for the new students that was multipurpose, practical, and democratic (everyone gets a view at graduation, even the cheap seats at the back). It is now used for lectures, ceremonies, and exams, and (less academically) has also been a filming location, exhibition space, and concert hall.

The Spaceship acts as the strong central point within a campus environment designed to encourage students to interact with each other. The different colleges which made up the university were weaved together through a network of open paths, which increased the number of chance encounters. The planners obviously didn’t take into consideration the people you’d rather avoid at uni, but it was a nice thought.

Concrete in one form or another has been around for centuries (any history of the material usually starts with the Romans) but it was only following the Second World War that it suddenly became fashionable in architecture, and especially in the new university planning sector. There are a few metaphysical ideas surrounding the use of concrete which, whether you buy into it or not, help explain the choice of ugly grey stone. It wasn’t the most creative of materials, nor did it encourage innovation, or dreams, or imagination; but it was minimalist, striking and indestructible. Each decade has often been defined through the materials they used, and after the post-war austerity, the people of the 60s needed the dynamic confidence of a concrete spaceship.

 

University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD