It was designed in 1976 by Giancarlo de Carlo: he has built a very big facility for the university but inserted it into a former convent, skilfully bringing together the forms and materials of the 15th and the 20th centuries.
You enter from the tight pedestrian streets of the town onto the upper level of a three or four storey building, built into the hillside. In front of you, you think you see a circular courtyard but when you get to the edge, you find its base is several storeys down - it is a kind of well, providing light and views to the academic accommodation lower down. Beyond that, on the same level, are a cluster of lecture theatres which are arranged in a dramatic semicircular form and are lit by a great skylight, sloping down to the lower floors.
Between these bold geometric shapes and the boundaries of the site are a number of foyers and circulation areas which have the feel of real public places. They encourage you to explore them, to go down circular stairs and ramps, and it's somehow reminiscent of the hill town outside. It is an inspiration to see how you can combine a careful appreciation of context with the insertion of very bold new ideas.
David Mellor is a director with Alec French Partnership, Bristol.
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