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This is the only review on the site written by the reviewer whilst a student.



Trevelyan in 'Trinity College, An Historical Sketch' refers to Great Court as 'clearly the finest College Court in the world'. Many other Trinity men and women and countless visitors would agree. Yet although people will readily tell you what they like about Great Court, few, with ease, could define its greatness. The history of the buildings of Great Court has been well documented, not least by Trevelyan himself. I propose only to offer a few thoughts on the success of Great Court as a whole.

Great Court is the finest College Court in the world, not because it contains a building of the highest architectural order, such as King's College Chapel or the Wren Library, or, because any of its buildings, individually, are the finest examples of their type (although we do all have our favourites). The term architecture encompasses psychological impact on its users, and the relationship of buildings to external space. As a whole, Great Court is the most successful architectural achievement in Cambridge in this sense. It is all the more remarkable for having grown piecemeal, to some extent 'unplanned', into the successful whole.

Great Court works as a unity. Much of its greatness lies in its successful enclosure and assimilation of space. Trinity is the most 'fortified' of colleges, enclosing space physically and psychologically so that the College member identifies with space as being in some way 'his' and the visitor feels something of the reverse, an outsider in another's territory. Of all Oxbridge's courts, Great Court most powerfully created this type of enclosure, despite being the largest court in either university, and it does this with a relaxed ease and balance that is not attained by other courts.

As well as enclosing space Great Court has devices to allow us to assimilate the space successfully. For instance, if one stands either under the Great Gate or on the steps of the Hall - both of which are the two visual 'exits' to the court which clearly 'signpost' themselves as such - the fountain blocks a proper view of the other. Psychologically, this cuts down the visual distance across which one looks and, more importantly, it blocks a view of an opening that would reduce the feeling of enclosure of the court. The fountain is of just the right scale, with glimpses through its open upper stonework.

As another example of the vital importance of the fountain to the court, if one walks along any of the main paved axes of the court, (for example from the Great Gate to the Hall) one tends to make haste to get past the fountain and to see round to what is on the other side - of course, one knows what is on the other side but one moves towards the visual stimulus of a less blocked view (even if the view is only peripheral) - and once one is round the visual obstacle of the fountain, one's destination is fully in sight and seems much less far off than if one had seen it clearly from the beginning and not had the fountain to break the journey into two parts.

If you doubt this, compare it to crossing the large courts of King's and Downing where although the distances travelled are usually less, the journey seems longer, having less visual stimulus.

The comparison highlights the successful enclosure and assimilation of space by Great Court. There, space does not leak out at the edges; it is private, and the buildings sit in happy juxtaposition.

Most importantly, Great Court is a successful social space - every member of Trinity must cross it wherever he lives because it contains many of the important functions of the College - the Hall, the Chapel, the bar, the Great Gate and Porter's Lodge and also because it is the main route of access to other courts. Visually and aurally, one may communicate across a 'private' space and yet not necessarily disturb the whole court because of its scale and its background sounds (especially the fountain that animates it at all times).

Although many of the buildings are relatively squat, the roof pitches and the extension upwards of the chimneys increase the apparent height and enhance the sense of enclosure. Where the court might potentially have had an intrusion from outside (e.g. St John's chapel tower), or where there is an 'exit', the buildings are fortuitously higher - on the north side, at Great Gate, at the Hall, at the Queen's Gate - once again reinforcing the self-containing space. Even at night the roofscape frames a view of the heavens that is close to the maximum field of vision of the eye, and so encloses the wider panorama.

At the detailed level, too, Great Court is very satisfying. The principal axes link the major visual foci. These axes are paved where they carry the most circulation, and where their role for circulation on that axis is diminished they are cobbled and act as a visual cue as to where to turn. The cobbled areas allow short cuts but are sufficiently different in feel to induce people back to the paths, and sufficiently wide to stop people cutting the corners - (many colleges have their cobbled areas but few succeed so persuasively at keeping people off the grass).

Individual buildings also reflect their significance by simple but effective methods - the rounded steps from the Hall marking the change in levels, and thus the importance of the Hall and the exit to the court that is not otherwise obvious.

The length of the Master's Lodge gives it beauty and grandeur at a human scale - it certainly does not overawe its neighbours, yet it asserts its importance. It is emphasized by being at the end of a principal axis, and by the simple and economic device of the projecting porch.

It is Great Court as an ensemble that is the achievement. Yet one might imagine an even greater achievement for it. The architecture of many of the historic houses of the nation, often built to reflect the assurance of their age, assimilating space and surroundings with confident aplomb, has contributed to forming the characters of their scions. Trinity over the centuries has been a particularly successful and confident college. Great Court with its human scale, balance and ease has set a mood that has been reflected in Trinity men and women over the ages and is today still forming the characters of many of us.