The Tall Blue Building: Happy 50th Birthday, Richmond

On 11 June 1965, Prime Minister Harold Wilson came to what is now the University of Bradford to open Main Building.  Later renamed Richmond Building, Main Building, a striking multistorey structure, quickly became the University’s most recognisable feature,  its hilltop position making it visible across the city.

Main Building, circa 1966.  (UNI B 19)

Main Building, circa 1966. (UNI B 19)

When Main Building opened, it was part of the Bradford Institute of Technology.  BIT was about to achieve the century-old dream of a University for Bradford: it received its Charter in October 1966, with Wilson as its first Chancellor.  However, the Institute had struggled with poor quality and outdated accommodation since its establishment as a College of Advanced Technology,  which hived off the higher education side of Bradford Technical College.  A University would need even more space for staff and students as well as better facilities for high level research and teaching in science and technological subjects.

Harold Wilson opening Main Building, 11 June 1965 (UNI PHw4)

Harold Wilson opening Main Building, 11 June 1965 (UNI PHw4)

BIT, unlike the College, was no longer under local authority control, but in practice it was impossible for it to act alone to solve its space crisis.  The two organisations had to work together for the benefit of the city, the Institute bringing in money and people and ideas and the authority making space and plans available.  They considered various greenfield sites for a whole new campus, including Woodhall, Tong and even Harrogate  (remember this was the 1960s when new “plate-glass” universities were taking shape outside cities).

However, it was eventually decided to expand the campus into the back streets which wrapped around the College.   Whole streets of houses were demolished (many people had to be rehoused as a result) and work on Main Building began in May 1960.  The building was commissioned by the Local Authority and designed by the City Architect, Clifford Brown, then handed over to the Institute.  The lower four floors of Main were first occupied in October 1962; other parts of the building in 1963 and 1964.

September 1964. View from top of Richmond Road, with Great Hall in foreground. Surrounding wall still under construction. Cars and vans at roadside. (UNI B10)

September 1964. View from top of Richmond Road, with Great Hall in foreground. (UNI B10)

Since the 1960s, Main/Richmond has been an important part of the University experience for students, from arrival at their first open day to their graduation ceremony.  Staff too (everyone visits Human Resources on their first day here!).  Visitors get their taxis and their parking permits at the “tall building”.   As well as many academic departments over the years, Richmond houses most central University functions plus shops and places to eat.

Artist’s impression of the proposed glazed atrium. News and views, September 2004, p. 3UniB15

Artist’s impression of the proposed glazed atrium. News and Views, September 2004, page 3 (UNI B15)

However, by the early noughties, it is fair to say that, like many 1960s buildings, Richmond was showing its age.  Many improvements to its appearance and usefulness have since been made, most noticeably the sky-blue cladding and the glassing in of underused space to create the Atrium where coffee and comfy chairs are to be had.   Alas, the fabulous modern “porch” on stilts you can see in the older photographs has gone.   I wonder if Richmond will be here in 2025 and how it will look?

100_1106

Music in the Atrium at an event for the University’s 40th anniversary, 2006

PS I don’t have the date of the renaming to hand, but we know that Main Building was renamed Richmond Building after the street on which it lives.  This was in line with the University’s then policy of naming its buildings after such streets or other local heritage features.

Sources:  Much of this article is based on Robert McKinlay’s histories, which are full of detail on the architecture and planning decisions of the 1960s, and on the Main Building article in our 100 Objects exhibition.

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3 responses to “The Tall Blue Building: Happy 50th Birthday, Richmond

  1. The stilted building did not, as far as I know, sway in the wind. But in a wind it was so noisy that you couldn’t hear a speaker. I believe the shape was modeled on that of a grand piano. When I was appointed in January 1966 I was allocated an office with two other staff members. After two terms we were all shunted off to new offices above the ice rink where we stayed for about 20 years before returning to Richmond.

  2. I remember the porch on stilts from my student days! It used to sway alarmingly in even moderate winds!

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