Our architecture is an expression of values and has a lasting impact on us. Winston Churchill, an Essex MP and founding donor of the University of Essex, said ‘We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us’, and in no other university in the country is this more true than on our Colchester Campus.
At Essex, our architecture gives physical shape to our commitment to staff and students being members of a community in a university on a human scale, designed to encourage chance interactions on the squares, inter-disciplinarity, and easy access to incredible parkland. The University’s architect, Kenneth Capon, didn’t want the architecture to be ‘shaggy and soft’; instead, he wanted to create ‘something fierce to let them work within.’ Our 50th Anniversary exhibition set out this thinking and is still available online.
And, over the last 60 years, we have been careful custodians of our mid-century architecture. But we recognise that, for some, the fierce architecture is striking but austere, and we have been keen to make this our place and our space – not quite making it shaggy and soft but imposing our personality on our home. We have:
- Created a ‘Tree of Life’ to remember members of our community; unveiled a ‘Wall of Fame’ recognising the contribution of our student leaders; and, over six decades, purchased art work and placed it around Wivenhoe Park to reflect issues we care about.
- Opposite the entrance to the Lecture Theatre Block, we have created a padlock memory wall where our community can leave padlocks and messages.
- Over the years, we have grown more confident in using the enormoboard, electronic screens, and banners in the squares to add personality to each of our squares, and to use them to share our successes and champion our values. The latest refresh is celebrating our 60th Anniversary with our ‘Where Change Happens’ campaign.
- Perhaps most striking is the recently completed work in Essex Sports Arena. Opened in 2018, with seating for 1,555 spectators, it is the largest indoor arena in the East of England and home of the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, the Essex Rebels Basketball and Volleyball teams — competing in the highest professional leagues in the UK — and the Essex Blades, our University teams. The pandemic set us back in our work to add our personality to the facilities. However, over the last 12 months, we have upgraded the Essex Rebels locker rooms to a very high standard, refreshed the Time Out café, and updated the foyer/reception area to make it unmistakably ‘our house’.
- Led by Monica Illsley, a pilot on the Colchester Campus is also underway to make sure that we do more to curate events, so that each week something is always happening on the squares and, whenever we can, we minimize cold spots. Following a roll-out on the Colchester Campus, we have similar plans for Loughton and Southend.
- Wivenhoe Park has been awarded a prestigious Green Flag Award seven times, and it has been voted one of the top ten green spaces in the UK and received the People’s Choice Award on five consecutive occasions – it is the only university campus to have achieved this award. We have worked hard to draw our community into its wonderful spaces. A running route was created in the 1970s. In 1983, we opened the UK’s first disc golf course which is the 8th oldest in the world, recently updated to create the Diamond Jubilee course, once again rated one of the very best in the UK. We have over 2800 trees in Wivenhoe Park, planted over a 250-year period, and our celebrated tree walk (.pdf) provides a wonderful opportunity to see some amazing and historic trees, many with a compelling story. In 2017, we put a path around the bottom lake and past the refurbished BBQ area to encourage people to venture out for a quick or longer walk. More recently, six bee hives have been placed in the University Apiary near Wivenhoe House, looked after by Professor Abdel Sahli, with anyone interested welcome to contact Abdel.
At the start of our 60th Anniversary, which stretches from August 2023 to July 2025, we want to both celebrate and benefit from our wonderful Colchester Campus. If we are to attract staff and students onto Wivenhoe Park, we know we must do all we can to make it more than a place of work.