The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Photo: Elain Harwood

Scarborough Technical College

College buildings with a marked resemblance to a Mies van der Rohe scheme survive remarkably unaltered

Gollins Melvin Ward were known to be admirers and interpreters of Mies van der Rohe’s architectural style. Their towers in Sheffield and London bear similarities to Mies’ characteristic skyscrapers, and their extensive use of curtain walling across a wide range of projects reinforces the connection.

A GMW scheme in Scarborough has recently come to our attention and its resemblance to Mies’ scheme for the Illinois Institute of Technology (formerly the Armour Institute, designed c. 1941) is particularly striking. Scarborough Technical College was commissioned by North Riding Borough Council’s Education Committee, who had a notable reputation as patrons of high quality architecture. Mies’ IIT designs were published worldwide after the war, coinciding with the commissioning of new Technical Colleges across the country as part of the diversification of secondary and further education.

In 1956–57 GMW designed a group of buildings to house the Technical College, all featuring exposed blackened steel frames, flat roofs, and curtain walling with plate glass and white vitrolite panels. Lower blocks were arranged around a five storey main teaching block, some connected by elevated covered walkways to navigate the sloping site.

Partial or total replacement of curtain glazing has been a barrier to listing for other GMW buildings. At the Aviva Tower in London, the loss of the surrounding context and insensitive refurbishment schemes have diluted its impact in the eyes of Historic England. Fortunately, Scarborough Technical College is remarkably unaltered, with all of the GMW-designed buildings still intact and almost all of the original glazing in place.

Issues with the loss of playing fields have brought a halt to the plans to clear the site for residential redevelopment, supported by Scarborough’s planning committee last year. We have submitted a listing application to HE, which we hope will be enough to save one of the best preserved and most faithful interpretations of Miesian architecture in the country.

Grace Etherington