New Cavendish Street

The Polytechnic, Regent Street, had dual origins. In 1838, the Polytechnic Institution was founded at 309 Regent Street by Sir George Cayley, and a year later granted a Royal Charter. The Royal Polytechnic Institution was among the first of the establishments for technical education in Britain, and as such was part of the technological revolution taking place in Europe. With the upsurge of non-classical, non-university education, it offered popular public lectures and encouraged research in the rapidly expanding fields of engineering and science at a time when even primary education was only in its early stages in Britain.

The RPI existed in this form for over forty years until in 1881 Quintin Hogg purchased the premises in order to extend his work among the poor class of young people in Central London, which he had commenced in 1864. At first, mainly concerned with religious instruction, the work gradually assumed a four-fold nature, providing spiritual, intellectual, physical and social activities.

As the work developed, a number of moves were made to large and more suitable accommodation, until in 1882, Quintin Hogg moved his institute into 309 Regent Street. Here academic activities continued apace and developments in the fields of arts and sciences were such as to make increasing demands on space. After Quintin Hogg’s death in 1903 his work was continued for a further 40 years by J E K Studd (later Sir Kynaston Studd). In 1912 the Regent Street building was enlarged and it received the façade which it has to this day. In 1927 the building was further enlarged, and an extension built in Little Titchfield Street (opening in 1929).

Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce was founded by the London County Council in 1958 by the amalgamation of the former Princeton College of Languages and Commerce with the Law Department from the Kennington College of Commerce and Law, as it was then called. The two colleges which were the precursors of Holborn has existed since just before the First World War. Princeton had developed on the language side, and Kennington strongly on the law side. The new college arose from a decision to place the law department of Kennington in the heart of legal London, and to strengthen the commerce side of Princeton.

The Holborn College started its life in the old Princeton College buildings and moved to new premises in Red Lion Square, Holborn, in 1961.

The Polytechnic of Central London was formed in 1970 by the amalgamation of The Polytechnic, Regent Street, and the Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce, and was one of a limited number of similar institutions established as a result of the White Paper, “A Plan for Polytechnics and Other Colleges” (presented to Parliament in 1966).

In 1960 the London County Council announced a plan to turn the Polytechnic into a federal college by adding a new College of Architecture and Advanced Building Technology and also a College of Engineering and Science. CAABT was allocated the Luxborough Lodge Site in Marylebone Road and CES the site in New Cavendish Street, for which the architects were the private firm of Lyons, Israel and Ellis, appointed in 1962. Both schemes were much delayed (delays in releasing capital, legal and planning difficulties etc); and were both finally finished in 1970. The work was going on against the background of post-Robbins reorganisation and the creation of the binary line. Both buildings were officially opened by Lord Hailsham on 21 May 1971 in a ceremony that also combined the official designation of PCL.

Architecture, Building, Civil Engineering, Surveying and Town Planning to Marylebone Road, together with Management Studies.

Chemistry and Biology (now Life Sciences), Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics and Physics and Photographic Technology to the New Cavendish Street building which also housed a new computer centre from Summer 1971.

Source: PCL Designation Ceremony Programme, 21st May 1971 and notes from University Archivist

The design of the new building:

College of Engineering and Science, New Cavendish Street, London
Architects: Lyons, Israel, Ellis Partnership

Client: Inner London Education Authority

Site: 1.34 acres at the corner of Clipstone Street and Cleveland Street

Brief: To provide a college for six disciplines – mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology on the basis of a detailed schedule of accommodation drawn up jointly by the Ministry of Education, the Regent Street Polytechnic and the LCC. The main requirements were drawing offices, laboratories, classrooms, lecture theatres and library, together with common rooms, kitchens and dining rooms and administrative offices. The architects were also asked to provide underground car parking and to allow for the retention or rebuilding of the public house on the site to overcome the payment of compensation to the brewers.

Town planning requirements: NCS itself is the subject of a height restriction – the Middlesex hospital on the south side had already received approval for a high and sheer face frontage set 6ft back from the pavement. Therefore the college had to conform to severe daylighting constraints along its NCS frontage.

Organization: The building has no absolute physical divisions but is organised into four areas of function: a cranked seven storey laboratory block along Cleveland Street; a stepped five-storey tutorial block along NCS; between them a circulation fulcrum which works vertically and horizontally, and, interlocking and interrelating, two lecture theatres; and fourth, a podium covering the heavy engineering labs and the car park.

Staff: Teaching: 100, Administration: 88
Students: Short FT: 100, FT: 480 (capacity 960), PT: 1160
Administration: 19,800 sq ft
Communal: 16,770 sq ft
Teaching: General: 5,650 sq ft; Engineering: 39,110 sq ft; Science: 38,000 sq ft
Total floor area: 160,010 sq ft
Lecture Theatres: Large: 200 seats, Small: 70 seats
Library: 20,000 books, 5 staff, 100 seats
Car parking: 44 staff only

Structure: Reinforced concrete frame throughout – exposed surfaces in white concrete board shuttering. Precast beam floors with service ducts.

Finishes: Exposed concrete is white and sawn-board shuttered. Throughout, bronze thin section curtain walling is used and the podium is faced with cream tiles.

Costs: Contract sum: £1,857,363 including public house, publican’s flat, direct site compensation payments of £90,500 and GLC direct contract lifts for £37,000. Total per sq ft: £8 2s 10d.

“The result is powerful, idiosyncratic, angular, uncompromising and intense. The only pieces of the site unused, vertically and horizontally, are those sterilised by the byelaws. Otherwise the college rises sheerly from what seem narrow streets and a couple of themes are developed into a rich orchestration of architectural noises – the white concrete towers of circulation and splayed shapes of specialised rooms on the one hand and curtains of bronze framing on the other. It is not as expensive as it sounds; the judicious choice of bronze, with lighter sections than would have been needed with aluminium, has kept the cost within the limits given. That policy is echoed throughout the building. Basically cheap items have made it possible to spend money on more bronze and achieve a quality of finish that is unexpected.”

“The planning principle is thus not additive but wholly interpenetrating and the building has a unity of spatial organisation as well as of function that suggests a firm idea of the educational character of the college.”

“…the enthusiastic exploitation of the limitations of the site.”

Source: The Architectural Review, CXLIX No. 887, January 1971. Article by Patrick Nuttgens

“Spectacular solution for restricted site”

“That these criteria could have been met at all on this site is no small triumph for the architects’ sense of planning and design; that they were carried out without foisting a monstrosity on the city is a feat. But that they were done with such brilliance that the building has become a widely admired piece of architecture in London is proof that many kinds of building restrictions, if exploited in a positive manner, can be made to work to the advantage of good design.”

Source: Progressive Architecture, April 1972

“the popular and much-admired headquarters of the College of Engineering and Science, Central London Polytechnic.”

“The library, plain, spacious and charmingly lit is laid out on two floors; the students find it a joy to work in and are unlikely to carp at the disproportionately large reading tables provided by the Inner LEA.”

“Ellis’ triumph has been to achieve an appearance of costliness at reasonable cost; to be generous with space on a pocket handkerchief site; to provide a hard coherent plan which never thrusts itself into the foreground. …. On a clear day with the sunlight sparkling off the bronze window frames and snow white circulation towers, one can see what the students mean [when they admit that the building is “beautiful”].”

Source: Design, No. 268, April 1971. Article by Alastair Best

Designation Ceremony:

The two new buildings of The Polytechnic at New Cavendish Street and Marylebone Road were officially opened with due ceremony on a bright and breezy 21st May. The cover photograph of this issue and those inside are intended to convey the outward, upward and forward looking thought which was expressed so forcibly by Dr Colin Adamson, the Director, in his speech at the opening ceremony. Much was said about the history of The Polytechnic and its past achievements by the Chairman of the Court of Governors, Mr F Walter Oakley, in the opening address, and by The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, The Right Honourable Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone, in the designation address. Dr Adamson proposed the vote of thanks to the Lord Chancellor and voiced his hope that the Polytechnic would go ahead to pursue excellence in many fields, with dissent rather than conformity, the keynote of this advance. The vote of thanks was seconded by Allan Schofield, President of the Students’ Union, and The Right Reverend The Bishop of Willesden, led the assembly in an act of thanksgiving and blessing for the future.

Cover photograph shows the Chairman of the Court of Governors, Mr F Wlater Oakley, with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, leaving the College of Engineering Science after the official opening and unveiling of the plaque. The photograph was taken by Douglas Daulman of the School of Photography. Inside is another one taken by him of Lord Hailsham with Mr Ellis, the Architect, in a prominent position on the New Cavendish Street building. Also inside is one of the Director, Dr Colin Adamson, addressing the official gathering. This photograph was taken by Peter Heinz of the School of Photography.

Source: The Polytechnic Magazine, June 1971

Description of the new building:

The ground floor of the New Cavendish Street building houses spacious common rooms and dining rooms, and the administrative offices, while the lower ground floor is devoted to engineering laboratories and workshops. The eastern side of the building is a 7-storey block containing the science laboratories, drawing offices and classrooms; to the west, a 4-storey tutorial block provides extensive facilities for lecturers to hold tutorials with small groups of students. Linking these blocks are the main lecture theatres and a library which occupies two floors connected by an interior staircase. There is a large open-air terrace over the main dining room, and a smaller one at fourth floor level.

By September 1971 a new ICL 1902A digital computer will have been installed at New Cavendish Street to increase considerably the computer facilities which have been built up over the past seven years. The new computer will have a 32K immediate access store, two disc units, two magnetic tape units, paper tape input/output, card input and line printer. There is a full range of ancillary equipment. The computer is run for the use of the whole Polytechnic.

Source: Prospectus for Courses in Engineering and Science, 1971/72

Student numbers: planning figure for CES initially was 762. Figures presented to Court of Governors in Feb.1971 say New Cavendish Street was nominally for 960 full time students, though in its first year there were 500.

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