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Observations on the plans for the new library, etc. online

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is 32 feet; it is capable of containing 500 persons; and as
it rises from the level of the basement story, the extreme
height of the apex of its roof, is below the level of the
Library floor, and it would not interfere materially
therefore with the lighting of the adjacent Museums. I
mention this circumstance more particularly, as the cha-
racter of this building has been very greatly misunderstood,
and quoted as a very serious objection to the adoption of
this plan.

I have expressed, on more occasions than one, my own
objections to the introduction of this immense Theatre, and
there is nothing in the contrivance above-mentioned, though
extremely ingenious, which should induce me to change my
opinion. It appears to me, that two very sufficient Lecture
Rooms might be introduced instead of it, which would be
much more useful to the Professors, and which would form
a much less awkward and embarrassing intrusion upon the
space. If the area of the basement story was continued,
as proposed in this plan, from the Museums to these Lec-
ture Rooms, the whole space around them might be con-
verted to various useful purposes, whether laboratories,

* If this wall and the adjoining theatre were removed, we should have a
clear quadrangle sufficiently spacious to admit of considerable architectural
effect : the entrances to it however would not bisect its sides, a defect of
symmetry which must always form an objection in Grecian buildings, how-
ever unimportant in those of a different character.



44

workshops, and rooms of any description which might be
required.*

The entrance to the Library is from an external staircase,
in the grand vestibule, and passes through an ante room,
which is placed above the Record Room ; a perfectly similar
external staircase leads from the vestibule immediately into
the private room of the Librarian. Through this ante room
the visitor passes into an octagonal room, surmounted by a
dome, and presenting at once a view of the east and south
Libraries, the length of one being 184 and of the other
187 feet. The general width of these rooms is 35 feet, and
their extreme height is 39 feet. They are lighted by win-
dows between the projecting cases on each side, as in the
present Library, and with larger windows at the ends. A
gallery runs above the windows on both sides, behind project-
ing coupled columns embracing the alternate cases, which are
made to support a series of domical vaults, each of which
has a sky-light in its apex to light the dome and the gallery
immediately below it. There is an octagonal room similar
to the first on the north-east corner, but none on the south-
west and north-west. The west Library is restricted to
a width of 31 feet, in consequence of the trending of the
ground on the north-west corner of the site; there are
entrances into the room for the Librarian and Syndics,
which is 28 feet by 19i feet wide, from the south Library;
and likewise into two Reading rooms from the west Library,
to which there is likewise a distinct staircase, whether private
or public, from the corner of the building near to Trinity
Hall.

Mr. Cockerell has given a perspective view of the interior
of this Library, which has excited, and in my opinion most
justly, almost universal admiration ; every part of it is full
of light; all its dimensions are noble, and in magnitude and
spaciousness it would have no rival in Europe.

I have now concluded a very imperfect survey of all
the parts of this building, and I have ventured to express
what I do most sincerely feel, my almost unqualified ap-

* An open area on both sides of the basement story, would greatly im-
prove its lighting and ventilation and fit it for almost any uses.



45

probation of the great beauty and propriety of the general
design, and of the skill with which the different parts are
distributed and adjusted to each other. The question how-
ever which the University is called upon to decide, is not
one of absolute, but of comparative merit, and it may be
worth while to consider the two designs in connection with
each other, with respect to the principal points which those
persons who are required to decide between them, would
think it most important to notice.

Of the two buildings, proposed by the two Architects,
the external character of one is accommodated to that of
the adjoining Senate House, so that it may neither destroy
its effect by projecting before it, nor make it look like an
intruder by the incongruity of its style of architecture, nor
overwhelm it by the magnitude of its parts, nor make it appear
mean by the ambitious nature of its ornaments. Whatever
opinion may be entertained of the exterior of Mr. Rickman's
building, when considered by itself, there can be no doubt
but that the Senate House has been more or less sacrificed
to it, in all the particulars above enumerated.*

The exterior of one building tells its own tale immediately,
as an edifice which is full of light, and every part of which
is destined for use and occupation. Whilst that of the other
would convey no idea to a spectator of the purposes for
which it could have been built, or of the uses to which
it could be applied. In other words, it is totally deficient
in its character of appropriateness to its specific destination.

In one plan, there are 12 columns in the double colon-
nade, and one at each corner of the building. These four

The more prominent parts of Mr. Rickman's building would be thrown,
when seen in the approach down Trumpington Street, immediately upon the
Senate House, which would thus appear to be engaged in another and larger
building of a totally different character : in approaching nearer again, the mag-
nificent flight of steps would be found within the distance of 25 feet from the
flight of steps in the centre of the front of the Senate House, the effect of which
would appear from contrast, extremely mean and insignificant. The Senate
House however, is now one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe, and whilst
the injury which it would receive from Mr. Rickman's building is certain, it is
not equally certain that the University would be compensated by the beauty
of its neighbour.



46

isolated columns, as well as the angles of the two pediments,
are surmounted by statues. These constitute almost the
only ornaments of the exterior, which are not absolutely
required by the style of the Architecture. In the other,
there are 38 large columns, a pediment filled with statues-,
750 feet in length of sculptured friezes and pannels, and
the whole building is surmounted by an enormous entabla-
ture. So far as the expenses which would be incurred
by these decorations are concerned, the difference in the
two buildings would be immense. It must be kept in
mind, however, that this is a mere question of expenditure,
totally unconnected with the beauty of the Architecture,
or with the convenience of the plans.*

In one plan, the distribution of the rooms, as well as
their lighting and ventilation, are simple, natural, and such
as arises immediately from the character of the Architecture.
In the other, we find a perpetual and unsuccessful struggle,
between the fixed and intractable character of the Archi-
tecture, and the proper, convenient, and simple distribution,
and lighting of the rooms.

In one plan we have a noble vestibule, a spacious en-
trance to the Court, simple and convenient staircases, with

* The responsibility incurred by a public body in expending large sums
upon the mere decorations of a building becomes very serious, when it is
extremely doubtful whether those decorations are consistent with good taste,
or whether the building itself is properly adapted to its situation : and in
the present instance, can either of these questions be answered to the satis-
faction of the University ? The Architect says that the sculpture may be
omitted if required, but that the effect of the building would be richer, if
it was introduced ; a very vague statement, which would induce an indiffer-
ent person to suspect that he had himself no very distinct or vivid concep-
tion of what the effect of their introduction or omission might be : the real
fact is, those ornaments which are not connected to a building by a much
stronger necessity than what is here assumed to exist, cannot be introduced
with safety, inasmuch as they may very possibly become a clumsy incum-
brance to it, instead of a decoration. It is an easy thing to talk of 750 feet of
sculptured frieze : but where is the artist now living who would form a series
of designs worthy of being thus perpetuated ? and where is the munificent
patron of the arts who would be at the enormous charge of their execution ?
It is quite clear that the University as a body durst not or ought not to under-
take it.



distinct and intelligible uses, with a principal entrance to
the Library, at the point of all others which presents the
most favourable view. In the other, we have a dark vesti-
bule, a narrow entrance to the Court, two immense staircases
one of which is entirely useless, two entrances to the
Library at the most unfavourable points, whether for light
or perspective effect. The area consumed for these purposes,
in one plan is 124 square yards; in the other it is 304.
I can refer to no other corresponding parts of the two
plans, which exhibit the contrast of the simplicity, and
therefore of the skilfulness of the arrangements of the two
Architects so strikingly as these.

It is unnecessary, however, to pursue this comparison
further, by bringing together observations which I have
already made respecting corresponding parts of these plans,
as it would only lead me to useless repetitions: and it
is very obvious from what I have already said, that the
judgement which I must feel compelled to pronounce, must
be, in every instance, unfavourable to Mr. Rickman.

I am well aware of the noble work which Mr. Rick-
man has just completed in this University, and I fully
share in the admiration which its exterior has so generally
excited; he has there shewn himself to be in complete
possession of the principles upon which the beautiful and
magnificent effects of Gothic Architecture depend, and
has gathered the matured fruits of the long and laborious
study of the monuments of that style, which exist in
this country. But it by no means follows that a great
Gothic Architect, must on that account, be either in pos-
session of the principles of another style, or successful in
the application of them ; or that the devotion of the labours
of a life to the cultivation of one branch of art or of science,
should supersede the necessity of a similar sacrifice to obtain
the possession of another. I venture to advance this argu-
ment in no offensive sense, but for the purpose of rebutting
a charge of presumption, which has been very frequently
advanced against those who have disputed, in the present
instance, the conclusion, that success in one great work,
in one department of art, is a proper and necessary ground



48

of confidence of similar success, in a work of a totally
different nature.

But it may be said, that in the whole of the preceding
discussion, I have assumed the tone of a partisan, and that
my opinions must therefore be received with the natural
suspicion and distrust, which ought to attach to such a
character. It is very true, that the extraordinary circum-
stances which accompanied the first competition, put me
as well as others, into a relation with the different com-
petitors, which made it extremely difficult to become im-
partial judges of their relative merits, in an entirely new
trial. It was for this reason that I was well satisfied to be
excluded from the New Syndicate, as it left me to the
free exercise of my own opinions, or of my own prepos-
sessions, if they are more correctly characterized by such
a word. I am not aware however, that I have made any
wilful mistatement in the details of the respective plans,
and whatever colouring they may have received from the
deep tinge of my own opinions or feelings, it is perfectly
competent for every Member of the Senate before he gives
his vote on this subject, to examine the plans themselves,
and to ascertain by the evidence of his own eyes, and not
by those of others, whether my criticisms are well founded
or not.

Again, others may object to the authority of the opinions
of any person, who is not himself an Architect, and who
has not been prepared by the course of his habits or his
studies, to transfer readily and accurately to his mind's eye,
the realities which Architectural drawings and plans pre-
tend to describe. I am perfectly satisfied however that
there are very few persons who may be considered to
be in the proper possession of this happy faculty ; and to
their judgement, if their existence could be in any case
established, I would most willingly entrust the final decision
of the present controversy *. But, in the absence of such

* It would be well for the University to adopt, in some degree at least,
the custom which is generally followed on the Continent, of never selecting
a plan for a building, without first receiving professional advice.




49

gifted individuals, it becomes the duty of the Members
of the University, to make the best exercise of their own
common sense; for there are some faults which the most
ordinary observation can detect: and inasmuch as they are
compelled by their situation to assume the office of judges,
it becomes doubly incumbent upon them to make every
exertion to prepare themselves for a proper performance
of their duty.

But others will say, that we have delegated our authority
to the Members of the Syndicate, to whose superior know-
ledge and opportunities of acquiring information we are
perfectly ready to submit. But it must be kept in mind,
that the exercise of such a power was denied to a former
Syndicate, who possessed at least equal opportunities of
forming a correct opinion, both of what was required and
of what was proposed. And it would not be altogether
just, that the University should be a democracy to day,
when a particular object was to be gained by such a theory
of its constitution, and should cease immediately either
to be so or to be so considered, when a change of cir-
cumstances rendered such a change of our constitution
desirable. The same party who contended so strenuously
for popular rights when an advantage was to be gained,
must be fully prepared for their free exercise, when they
are likely to be sufferers by it.

It remains to notice but one more argument which has
exercised great influence on this question, and which is
certainly entitled to some consideration. It has been said
that Mr. Cockerell has not complied with the last instructions,
and that he has consequently excluded himself by his own
act, from the terms of the last competition. It would in
the first place be no very flattering compliment to Mr. Rick-
man, to say, that he was entitled to the prize upon such
grounds, and upon such grounds only. But before we
proceed farther, we beg to refer our readers, to some cir-
cumstances connected with the very remarkable clause in
the instructions upon which this argument is founded:
see page 22.

D



50

Did the Syndics intend that the Architects should be
confined to the letter, or to the spirit of those instruc-
tions ? If they meant the former, they must unquestionably
have assumed a much more serious responsibility, than
was justifiable either by prudence or good sense, and such
as could not have been supposed, unless expressed in the
most decided and absolute language.

If they did not intend to command, but simply to re-
commend the precise arrangement in question, they have
no right to complain of the Architect, who has more than
complied with the spirit, though not with the letter of
their instructions; who has provided for all their wants
by the most simple and natural means, and even for more
than they ventured to ask at his hands : who has given
them gold, when they asked for silver: who has given
them light, when they asked for darkness : who has sur-
passed even the most sanguine hopes entertained of the
capabilities of the ground for completely supplying every
object which had ever been contemplated.

Again, the suggestion of extending the building to the
extremity of the ground, was made by Mr. Cockerell
himself, and though it received the warm approbation of
several Members of the first Syndicate, its developement
is entirely due to him. It has thus become his own pro-
perty, which no other Architect could venture to adopt,
without incurring the charge of plagiarism. I am far
from thinking however, that any idea either has been, or
could be entertained of such an appropriation ; and the general
arrangements of these plans, whichever may be finally
adopted, are necessarily so far determined by this very
circumstance, as to allow of very trifling modification.

But let us suppose that the instructions of the last Syn-
dicate were absolute, and not recommendatory merely, and
that no advantages however great and obvious, could justify
a departure from them. It would at all events be but just to
allow Mr. Cockerell to resume the arrangement of his first
design, which would satisfy even the letter of these instructions,
as completely as Mr. Rickman's; for that arrangement would



51

admit of the adaptation of the exterior of the building, as
given in the second plan, without alteration, inasmuch as
it is adjusted altogether to the extent of the present front
of the Library. The east and west Libraries would be
shorter by 40 feet respectively, and it might be expedient
to make the width of the whole Building, and the height
of the Library, somewhat less than before. But no other
change in the principal Building would be necessary, and
the Museums alone in the range of rooms below, would
be sufferers to the extent of 80 feet in length. The two Lec-
ture Rooms with the Apparatus and Model Rooms, would
be placed as in the first plan, and it must be recollected that
it was the only plan proposed, either in that competition or
the present, in which they were so placed, as not to interfere
seriously with the lighting of the adjacent Museums. If
Mr. Cockerell's present plan was thus modified, entirely from
his own materials, which have been already before the Univer-
sity, it would sufficiently satisfy the last instructions; and
though I should consider such a compulsory change in the
principle of his design, as an act of barbarism, I have no hesi-
tation in saying, that even in this form, it would more com-
pletely satisfy the wants of the University, than the one
which has now been recommended for adoption. *

I have hitherto made no allusion to the plan pro-
posed by Mr. Wilkins, from a feeling of reluctance to
mix up his name with a controversy, to the origin of which
he is a stranger. He has followed very strictly the instruc-
tions of the Syndicate, and the arrangements of the in-
terior of his building as well as its exterior, shew the hand
of a great master of his art. The portico in front of his
building, with all its accompanying decorations, would be
nearly unrivalled in this country for propriety and good
taste. And the same character of appropriateness and
simple elegance, presents itself in every one of the other
fronts of his building. His Library without much splendour

* Mr. Rickman's plan could not be adopted without changes nearly as
considerable as tfiose which I have mentioned as necessary to adapt Mr.
Cockerell's plan to the letter of the last instructions.

I) 2



52

or spaciousness, is full of accommodation ; and though I might
venture to point out many objections to the crowding toge-
ther of his Museums and Lecture Rooms, and to other part*
of the arrangement of his lower story, I must consider
many of them as originating in the precise instructions of the
Syndicate. I certainly think the plan proposed by Mr.
Wilkins, to be superior to that of Mr. Rickman, and that
it has not experienced from the Members of the Univer-
sity, the attention which it merits ; and if I venture to
express an opinion of the great superiority of that of Mr.
Cockerell, I should ascribe it to the developement of the dis-
tinguishing principle of that design, which escapes the embar-
rassing dfficulties from which both the others have suffered
so seriously.*

Mr. Cockerell has estimated the expense of completing
the whole range of the principal building from the Plumian
Lecture Room to the end of the Geological Museum,
with the Library above and the basement story below, at
25,700. t This would include the Plumian Lecture Room
and Apparatus Room, a great Theatre to hold 236 persons,
the Museums of Botany, Mineralogy, and Geology, ex-
tending through a length of 162 feet, nearly the whole of the
basement story, including the apartments of a Resident, a very
extensive range of workshops, unpacking rooms, and store
rooms ; also a spacious entrance to the interior court from
Clare Hall, a staircase to the Library above from the same
quarter, with the two Reading rooms, and 300 feet in length
of the new Library : this portion of the new Library would
communicate naturally and immediately with the present
Library, by a temporary doorway, and would easily receive

* I trust that Mr. Wilkins will pardon the involuntary use which I have
made of his name and accept the sincere assurance which I offer to him of my
respect for his distinguished architectural talents and acquirements : and I
feel satisfied that his reputation as an Architect, high as it most deservedly
is, will suffer no injury from the most careful study and examination of his
design.

t This estimate does not deduct the value (1460.) of the materials of
the Old Court of King's College, and does not include the fittings of the
Library and Museums.



53

the whole of the books in the present Library, preparatory
to its final removal ; in fact there would be very few of the
more pressing wants of the University, which might not,
with the aid of a very few sacrifices, be very readily and
immediately supplied*.

Mr. Rickman has estimated the expense of building the
New Schools of Divinity and Arts, the Geological Museum,
and about two thirds of the Museum of Mineralogy, with
the portion of the Library above these rooms, the two
Lecture Rooms, the Model and Apparatus Rooms, the two
Rooms for the Syndics of the Library and the Librarian,
with the several Workshops and Unpacking Rooms, at
,27,810. This estimate does not include the fittings of the
Library nor of the Museums, or deduct, the estimated value
,1460. of the materials of the old buildings of King's
College.

If we examine the rooms on the ground floor of the
principal Building, which are proposed to be built in the
first instance, it will be found that the Geological Museum t
is the only one which could be completed and applied,
according to its ultimate destination ; for I have already
mentioned some reasons why the portion of the Mineralogical
Museum could not to be completed as proposed, and if it
was so, it would leave no entrance whatever to the interior

* The collections of Mineralogy and Geology would be immediately trans-
ferred to their own Museums, which would become the Lecture Rooms of the
Professors of those sciences : the collection of Comparative Anatomy might
be placed in the Museum of Botany, the Professor of Botany retaining his
room in the Botanic Garden : the Jacksonian Professor would likewise retain
his present room : the Plumian Professor would retain his present room, or
remove to the new one provided for him : the Professor of Chemistry might
secure a workshop underneath or near the Great Theatre ; and if one of the
small Lecture Rooms which I should propose for the middle of the Interior
Court was erected, it might be immediately converted to his use : it would not be
possible to make any use of any part of the old buildings of King's College,
the space occupied by which would not be immediately wanted, inasmuch
as it would be quite necessary, for the convenience of carrying on the new
buildings, that the whole of the old should be removed at the same time.

t The length of this Museum is 72 feet, its width 32, its area 256
square yards : the length of Museums which would be completed in Mr.
f ockercll's plan is 160 feet : their width 35 : their area in square yards 620.



54

Court, except from King's College. The Schools of Divi-
nity and Arts, the only other two rooms in this range,
would not be wanted for their proper uses, and would not be


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Online LibraryGeorge PeacockObservations on the plans for the new library, etc. → online text (page 5 of 6)