Campaigners in the UK have launched a petition to save Durham University's Student Union Building, also known as Dunelm House, after the university announced its intention to demolish and replace the brutalist structure earlier this month. Designed in 1966 by Ove Arup and the Architects' Co-Partnership, the building is perhaps the most important 20th-century edifice in a city that is better-known for its UNESCO World Heritage-listed cathedral and castle.
Dunelm House and the adjacent Arup-designed Kingsgate Bridge are considered among the highlights of the legendary engineer's career, alongside such feats as the Sydney Opera House. The building sits on a steep bank on the River Wear, with multiple terraces facing out towards the river, while Kingsgate Bridge crosses the river at a slight angle to meet the with the building's entrance. Arup, who was born in the nearby city of Newcastle, was so fond of the two structures that he even requested for his ashes to be scattered from the Kingsgate Bridge after his death in 1988, while a bust of Arup sits near to Dunelm House's entrance.
In explaining its decision to replace the building, the university cites an estimated repair cost of £14.7 million and states that "Dunelm House is not able to accommodate new uses" as part of its university estate masterplan. However, a petition launched by a group causing itself Save Dunelm House argues that a simpler solution to this problem is simply to revise the masterplan - while pointing out that recent new buildings constructed by Durham University have not shown themselves to be better value for money than the expected repair cost.
"Dunelm House has a gross internal area of 3,980 square meters, making the refurbishment cost an estimated £3,600 per square meter," explains the petition. "That seems like a lot of money, but it is cheaper than the cost of Durham University's new Ogden Center for Fundamental Physics (the new abstract timber building) which is costing £11.5 million for 2,478 square meters - that’s a whopping £4,640 per square meter! Refurbishing the building could be cheaper than building new."
At the time of publishing, the petition has collected over 1,200 signatures. Visit the petition here to add your name.