The Priestley Building is imposing. No structures peer over it, few trees frame it, it rears up from its foreground to hold and supersede the skyline. Approaching it, mid-lockdown, you are made to feel small by its confident lines and the deserted University campus. Windows no longer flash with reflections, yet there is still a palpable energy to the architecture. Neither the silence, the copper sunshine or the immaculate ‘Sustainability Garden’ can make the Priestley Building yield and seem serene. In fact, the emptiness is charged.
The building possesses a dynamism which seems at odds with its weighty, rectangular form. Its facade protrudes and recedes with windows and an external staircase which scratches across the building, incrementally rising, pulling the viewer’s gaze with it. Air conditioning vents are held by blocks and positioned beneath one another, forming a dashed line which runs from the ground to the sky. When coupled with the building’s thin, uniform, almost dripping, window panes, these seem to sketch out a distinct verticality. At its top, the building is composed of curved, oblong cut outs which frame pockets of sky and embed an evolving and fluid vista into the architecture.
Conceptualised as part of the University’s 1960 Development Plan, the building was designed by the architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon (who are arguably best known for their work on the Barbican Estate in London). Recently, it has undergone significant renovation to house the School of Earth and Environment’s ‘Priestley International Centre for Climate’. Although the building has a new purpose and name, its iconic facade appears unchanged. Its new identity is only evident in the thin letters which quietly spell out ‘Priestley Building’ and cast faded shadows across the concrete.
You can check out Flo's 'GLIMPSES' series on her Website HERE.