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New Hall, Cambridge

Whilst at Congenial with major_clanger a few weeks ago, I was struck by the very unusual building.  And as the weekend proceeded, several people told me the story of how it came into being.  Apparently it was a last minute set of plans for a middle eastern shopping centre that were pulled off the shelf ad hoc.  Quaint, I thought.

Yesterday whilst in the museum shop at Barbican I picked up a book on architecture and it fell open at New Hall's library.  Coincidence or what?  I read the three pages on the history of New Hall and the plans came from a competition in which 17 entries were received.  Chamberlain, Powell and Bon's plans were chosen. The only reference middle eastern reference I can find is some post construction criticism comparting it to a harem.

Was the shopping centre an urban myth or is there substance to it that I've missed?

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Does the serving area still rise from the floor of the refectory at the start of each meal?

No - they built a new bit adjacent to the refectory which includes new kitchens and a bigger serving area. Not as much fun, but the food is much better.

The version I heard years ago was that it was a college designed for the middle east, but the plans were hastily adapted for the UK when the original project was cancelled, which is why it's nicely cool in warm weather, but apparently got very cold in winter. However, it's definitely an urban myth; the architect just liked domes etc.

Belatedly remember that the first time I saw it I was bitterly disappointed because there wasn't a big telescope under the dome...

The original bursar of the college retired a few years ago. In her speech at her retirement dinner, she revealed that she had made up the story about it being a design for the Middle East and spread it quietly.

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