CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating the success of a "hard fought" battle to gain listing protection for Durham University's Brutalist student union building on the banks of the River Wear.

The university had planned to demolish Dunelm House and neighbouring lecture blocks in New Elvet, as part of a re-development masterplan, citing excessive repair costs, but it has now been given Grade II listed status.

The Twentish Century Society’s head of casework Clare Price said: “I am delighted that the society’s campaign to persuade the Minister to list Dunelm House has finally been successful.

"It is such a striking building in a stunning location and fully deserves recognition at a national level. This result makes the hard work and tenacity of all involved worthwhile despite the long wait.

"We look forward to working with the university to identify ways the building can continue in use as there are so many exciting possibilities for it.”

The five-level concrete building was constructed between 1964 and 1966 to the designs of Richard Raines of the Architects’ Co-Partnership, under supervision of the partner Michael Powers.

It "responds cleverly and dramatically to a very difficult site in the Wear Gorge", and as a counterpart and compliment to Sir Ove Arup’s adjacent Grade I-listed Kingsgate Bridge and the cathedral on the other side.

Arup acted as structural engineer and architectural advisor and is famously featured in a bust on one of the outside walls.

C20’s campaign started in 2016 when Durham University applied for a Certificate of Immunity against listing. It was later announced that they were planning to demolish the building as part of a redevelopment masterplan.

Campaigners argued the building deserved to be listed and that the COI should be refused. Although Historic England recommended Grade II listing, the Secretary of State disagreed, refusing to list it even at Grade II.

C20's first request for a full reappraisal was unsuccessful, but their second, accompanied by a Freedom of Information request for disclosure of all documentation, was granted. This review has now led to the building being listed at Grade II.

The university’s consultants had maintained that Dunelm House was in poor condition, as a result of which it was under-utilised, the original design was inflexible, the concrete of the structure was failing and the roof had never worked properly. These claims were strongly disputed by C20 and HE.

C2O’s Clare Price said at the time: “We are of the opinion that the issues are ones of repair and that they can be addressed. State of repair is not a valid consideration when deciding whether a building can be listed – a necessary precaution to prevent deliberate neglect.

"Many buildings of this period, listed and unlisted, suffer from problems with concrete, often caused by lack of maintenance or inappropriate repairs. These issues have successfully been resolved in numerous cases.”

She pointed out that the original roof has never been replaced which would be expected in a building of this age with “design defects.”

Adrian Green, a historian of architecture based at Durham University, said: “The 'Caring for Brutalism' conference held in Dunelm House in October 2017 brought together experts on Brutalism and Post- War university architecture.

The conference made plain the outstanding significance of Dunelm House and its special place in the history of Durham University.

It was built to embody 1960s values about turning students into cultivated citizens. The building was erected with public funds from the University Grants Committee, responding to the Robbins Report on University Education.

In addition to winning both a Civic Trust award and the RIBA Bronze Medal for 1966, the building was positively reviewed at the time of its completion and has subsequently been praised many times.

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Durham University, said: “Durham University is a responsible custodian of a large and historic estate.

"We manage over 300 buildings, 62 of which are listed, and we also jointly manage a World Heritage Site with Durham Cathedral. We take decisions on the future of our estate with great care and following wide consultation with interested stakeholders and the public.

"The Secretary of State’s decision to list Dunelm House as Grade II, which notes there are divided opinions on Brutalist buildings, has given us much to consider as we shape our future investment strategy. We will now carefully work through options for the building, while continuing to work in partnership with our students, staff and stakeholders.”

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