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Sir Ove Arup and Durham

When Nikolaus Pevsner called Durham “one of the great architectural experiences of Europe”, he had in mind the west or south-west viewpoints, from South Street or Prebends’ Bridge. Since the time of his evaluation, given in the 1953 edition of his Buildings of England volume, the view of, and approach to, the Cathedral and Castle from the opposite side of the peninsula has been much changed by new university buildings, which have replaced the earlier townscape. The two most notable new constructions were Dunelm House, completed in 1963, and adjacent Kingsgate Bridge opened two years later. In townscape terms the staggered cubes of shuttered concrete of Dunelm House, together with the reinforced concrete of the slim footbridge, constitute a unified composition. Both structures received Civic Trust awards soon after completion ; more recently Kingsgate Bridge has been scheduled as Grade 1, and Dunelm House is expected to join the listing in the near future. Master of this symphony was Ove Arup, who was structural engineer for the building and designer of the bridge.

Sir Ove Arup

Sir Ove Arup (1895 – 1988, knighted in 1971) achieved a commanding position in the world of 20th century architecture through his pioneering work as a structural engineer. Associated abroad with such innovative buildings as Sydney Opera House and the Pompidou Centre, and with Coventry Cathedral and the London Barbican in the UK, it always renews a sense of pride in our city to reflect that his favourite piece of design remained Kingsgate Bridge.

When Trustees recently learnt of the existence of a bronze portrait-head of the great man, they explored the possibility of erecting a copy in the vicinity of the two structures. Preliminary on-site meetings have been held with the University and with the City’s Conservation Officer, and favourable comments received from English Heritage and C.A.B.E. Critical to the success of the project is the substantial funding given by Ove Arup and Partners International Ltd and the Northern Rock Foundation.

The original portrait head was sculpted by Diana Brandenburger in 1987; it was shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1988 and is now in store at the National Portrait Gallery. (Copyright reasons do not allow us to reproduce the National Portrait Gallery's photograph of the bronze on this site, but following this link takes you to the page in the NPG's website where you can see it.) A copy has now been made and it is hoped to unveil this appropriate and welcome addition to the urban scene in the Spring. More details will be given in the February Bulletin.

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Page maintained by Roger Cornwell and last updated on 2 January 2002