Recent plans to add solar panelling to Trinity’s New Court have sparked fierce resistance, opponents citing potential damage to historic features, and suggesting that the panels will be distracting additions to the roofscape. But embracing modernity through the use of green technologies is essential if Cambridge is to move forwards.
Cambridge University features much world-famous architecture, from the Tudor grandeur of the John’s Gatehouse and King’s Chapel, to Murray Edwards’ space-age dining hall and Robinson’s award-winning stained glass windows. From the Neoclassical Senate House and Downing College to the redbrick gothic style of Girton and Selwyn, the University of Cambridge is an architectural feast.
However, some now suggest that this is under threat from the installation of insulation and solar panels. However whilst the proposed plans to modernise New Court at Trinity might represent a change to the historic roofscape of Cambridge, it might be a change for the better.
Dons and students are rightly concerned that the Grade 1 ‘Tudor Gothic’ court is inefficient to heat and ‘inadequate for contemporary student use’. Trinity students and dons hardly live and work in squalor in New Court, but the College must put its members’ working conditions first, and the improvements will allow it to do so in a sustainable manner.
However, English Heritage objects on the grounds that original features would be undermined by modernisation. English Heritage shouldn’t be concerning itself with solar panels damaging Trinity roofs, which have been proven after all to withstand many a May Ball.
The panels will not turn the roofs of Trinity into Cambridge’s first solar farm, for there are perfectly inconspicuous panels which could, with some careful thought, be integrated into New Court with little aesthetic offence being committed.
Moreover old and new can indeed form a happy union. Cambridge doesn’t always make sure that such a union is the product of new builds in the city; there are some real nightmares. The accommodation blocks over at St. Catherine’s, and Cripps Court, Selwyn are two particularly obvious cases.
But New Court doesn’t have to become to Trinity what the Fisher Building has become to John’s. Girton is currently undergoing a large building project that will see a whole new wing added to Ash Court, in a style which, whilst being modern, will echo the original redbrick Victorian Gothic building. In this, Cambridge is a world leader, and whilst we should be proud of our beautiful buildings and gardens, we must progress and above all set an example.
If Trinity is defeated by conservationists over this issue, the entire University will gradually succumb to a sense of insular architectural traditionalism, in which no change or modernisation will ever take place.
To ignore the problems with New Court would constitute negligence, and a failure to look after such an old and beautiful part of the city. Architectural hypochondriacs pose a much bigger threat to New Court than solar panels and double glazing.
Indeed, the physical changes at Trinity might just lead to a shift in how the public sees the University as a whole. Cambridge can be a place where new and old get along like a house on fire, a place that can embrace new green technologies whilst retaining its ancient and fantastic history and buildings.
We are an ancient university, but this doesn’t mean that we should be ancient and backward in our thinking about modernisation and sustainable technologies.
Jack Pulman-Slater is a second-year Linguistics student at Girton.
Photo – stevecadman