Situated alongside the Kingsgate Bridge, the Student’s Union building occupies a dramatic sloping site on the east side of the Wear with a grand view of the Chapel of the Nine Altars and the Cathedral opposite.
The building was to provide accommodation for the University Students’ Union, comprising largely at the time a debating society and Students’ Representatives Council. With a 16 metre fall from top to bottom and a need for access at both, the site posed both structural and planning problems to the designers. The Boat House at the lowest level required access onto the Wear, whilst the main access from the footbridge is some four floors up. The floors are connected via a long flight of steps running up the side of the main building.
Approached from the bridge, the huddled form can be seen from above necessitating a concern for the roof as a ‘fifth facade’ of the building. At the request of the Royal Fine Art Commission, the original zinc was replaced by a concrete, panelled roof. However, the large, precast tiles that were used have been subject to slippage over the years caused by vibrations from heavy traffic on New Elvet and have tended to slide down the slope towards the river.
The building sits back against the slope, preserving the profile of the valley, demonstrating as architect Jack Lynn observed, an “assertiveness and respect for the surroundings [that is] all too rarely found in buildings these days”.
Image 1 licenced under the Creative Commons
Image 2-3 copyright of authors
Images 4-8 copyright of Authors (model by Northumbria University)