The University of York was founded in 1963, over 53 years ago. The decadent Heslington Hall and King’s Manor were the home of students to begin with, but relatively soon the campus as we know it today began to come into fruition. Concrete, concrete and more concrete seemed to be the design plan, and by 1972 most of ‘Hes West’ had been completed, with construction halting until 1990 with the building of James College. Although buildings like Central Hall have had famous musicians such as Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney play there, the popularity of these musicians and Hes West’s architecture are far from comparable. This less than favourable reputation of Hes West has led me to ask the question: ‘what about Hes East, how will Hes East be viewed in 50 years time?’
Now that is a very difficult question to answer, but I will attempt to have an educated guess. The key is – in my opinion – to do with blending in. Whilst Hes West is a concrete sprawl befitting of Milton Keynes rather than historic York, Hes East takes an ambitious but less abrasive approach to modern architecture. The contrast between the grey, unnatural concrete and the surrounding lakes, countryside and Heslington village is like trying to put Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in a room together: it just isn’t going to work. The condensed campus also gives a sense of being cluttered, a man-made invasion into otherwise beautiful Yorkshire countryside.
Hes East, by contrast, is at the cutting edge of architecture, in the same way Hes West was 50 years ago, so of course it is impossible to say for sure if the architecture will be admired in 50 years time. However, its use of natural, more rustic materials, such as wood and copper, its attempt to not rise too high by staying below three stories, and the fact that it just doesn’t feel as condensed and clustered as Hes West, give me a strong impression that Hes East will be viewed as an architectural success in 50 years time. The use of floor-to-ceiling glass in buildings like the Ron Cooke Hub, give a light and airy feel so that the separation between man and nature doesn’t seem quite as severe as it does at Hes West. The buildings in Hes East seem much more in proportion, Hes West often feels like it does not adhere to symmetry in quite as clear a fashion. Architecture which has stood the test of time: Roman, Georgian, Gothic, all follow symmetry religiously. It is, in my opinion, a simple recipe to architectural success, a recipe which Hes East has followed fantastically, and continues to follow with the continuing construction of ‘The Piazza’, set to be finished in 2018.
Heslington East will continue to expand over the years as the university expands and grows. As long as the Hes East campus architects follow the same, contemporary yet thoughtful design, then the campus will hopefully become an architectural beacon, not just for 50 years, but many more years to come.