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The history of the University of York

The University of York was one of seven Plate Glass Universities which set a new agenda for higher education in the UK. Watch Maddie Boden explain.
As you’ve just read, the University of York was one of seven new Plate Glass Universities built in the 1960s during a significant period of growth for higher education. Keen to compete with other new universities like Sussex which had opened in 1961, York wanted to begin enrolling students as soon as possible. But first it needed buildings to house and educate them. The site chosen for the campus was a 180-acre estate surrounding a Tudor-era building called Heslington Hall. The architects plans for the site incorporated this historical building but instead of copying its style, they sought to blend old and new.
The first buildings to be constructed, Derwent and Langwith Colleges, were connected to Heslington Hall by a covered walkway with plenty of green space surrounding it and this is where well find some of the earliest pieces of sculpture in the university’s collection. The colleges were integrated learning and living spaces and we’ll learn more about them in the next article. A combination of time pressure and budget constraints resulted in the need for the University architects to think creatively about getting buildings up quickly and cheaply. They decided to use the CLASP system for building. CLASP, which stands for Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme, was a type of construction that used light-steel prefabricated building frames.
Developed just after the Second World War, CLASP adapted to the lack of building materials readily available in Britain. It was also introduced to meet the demand local authorities had to build new schools for the post-war baby-boom generation. These buildings are distinctive and chances are, if you live in the UK, you’ll have seen buildings that date from the 1960s that look quite similar. As we start to look at the sculpture around campus, it’s important to think about the way it interacts with the architecture and surroundings. British sculptors responded to industrialised systems of building like CLASP in their work, which was quickly changing the post-war British landscape.
Some sculptures are even made from the same materials as the buildings such as steel and concrete and we’ll think a bit more about materiality next week.

In this video, we’ll learn about the construction of the University of York and the unique building methods used to achieve a distinct architectural style. We will start to consider the overall relationship between the buildings and the art in public spaces on the university campus.

You might also be interested in this archival footage from the Shepherd Group, the contractors for many of the buildings on the Heslington West campus.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

How do you think the distinctive CLASP buildings might influence the type of sculpture displayed on campus?

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Modern Sculpture: An Introduction to Art History

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