New Hall College “guided exploration”

There is a “Festival of ideas” celebrating the 800th birthday of Cambridge University. Tonight, I went to a performance art/guided tour of New Hall College organised by performance artist and architect collective Urban collaboratory. New Hall College, the last of the Cambridge Female-only Colleges, was built in 1964 in a modernist style.

The performance was some sort of guided tour led by the 2 artists. They had interviewed people living and/or working in the college (students, fellows, cleaners, caterers, gardeners) and stopped at various places to read out quotations from these interviews, mostly focusing on the daily routines of the College’s occupiers and the way they used the space. They also read out excerpts from the architectural review published in 1964 when the College was built.

The key concepts behind the 2 artists’ interpretation of the space were feminity and futurism. The building is built in a modernist 1960’s style, very epurated, completely white (or rather beige in practice, but the architect’s concept was about whiteness …) and famous for its dome. The virginal whiteness and the female shape of the Dome referred, for the 2 artists, to a male architect’s interpretation of what an all-female dwelling should look like. The white dome also reminded them of 1960’s science fiction movies and chosen excerpts from such films were shown in the college dining room. Indeed, 1960’s science ficition movies imagined future architecture to look very much like modernist 1960’s buildings, and several white domes were shown, one of them supposedly on a human-inhabited Moon ! These films also had a vision of the future where male and female roles were blurred or even reversed, possibly echoing the anxieties of the New Hall architect (or not …)

I was very impressed by the stairs leading up to the famous dome. I felt like a in lighthouse.

New Hall College Stairs (Cambridge)

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