Ruskin Building celebrates 100 years

Published: 2 September 2009 at 13:20

Old facility that has served students through the ages and remains central to university life

At the heart of Anglia Ruskin University’s East Road campus, the Ruskin Building is 100 years old this month (September).

Housing the Cambridge School of Art, this building continues to be at the centre of the Cambridge campus which is now undergoing a £40m expansion programme to house additional teaching space and five new lecture theatres. 

Built for Cambridgeshire County Council, the Ruskin Building brought under one roof three separate institutions which were struggling with inadequate accommodation. Two were in East Road, the Technical Institute (founded in 1894) and the Cambridge & County School for Girls (1900) which shared overcrowded premises in a former furniture repository (where the County Court now stands). The third was the Cambridge School of Art, which since 1862 had occupied a cramped suite of rooms  at the back of the Guildhall.

Moving to new premises enabled the merger of the Cambridge School of Art and the Technical Institute to form a new ‘School of Arts & Crafts’ and allow some common teaching between this and the Cambridge & County School for Girls. The site chosen was the former Covent Garden Nursery, off Mill Road. This had the advantage of offering ample space for gardens, playing fields and tennis courts.

The new building, designed by architect H.H Dunn, opened in September 1909, although the ‘official’ opening by the US Ambassador, Whitelaw Reid was not until October. Its ‘school’ origins are still evident: the Ruskin Gallery is the former assembly hall, with classrooms opening off; the gallery gave access to more classrooms, labs and the dining room.

By the 1920s, more space was needed: this was partly met by ex-War Department wooden huts. Overcrowding remained a problem but was solved, at least in the short term, by the County Girls moving to Long Road in 1940.

It was assumed that the ’Tech’ would follow suit and move, to site in Trumpington Road. However, in 1954 this proposal was abandoned, and from the late 1950s the campus was increasingly built upon. As provision broadened and student numbers grew, its centre of gravity gradually moved towards East Road, culminating in the Helmore Building (1983).

Consequently, the Ruskin Building lost its position as the flagship building. Described in 1909 as ‘a large, light, pleasurably-heated and cheerful building’, by the early 1990s it was in need of updating. Recent years have seen its renovation and renaissance.

Talking about the Ruskin Building, Tony Kirby, Honorary Research Fellow within the Faculty of Arts, Law and Social Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

"It is entirely appropriate that we should be celebrating 100 years of the Ruskin Building at a time when the campus is once again undergoing transformation."

"With its new state of the art Ruskin Gallery the building is attracting more attention now than at any time in its history. As it enters its second century, we are all acutely aware that it is a credit to our University."