The newly drawn lines of Vanbrugh are shaky

Taking the society activities out of a college obscures the whole point of a college, says Daniel Fairbrother

Hopefully, many will have heard of the protest over the ousting of societies from Vanbrugh dining hall. Reclaim Vanbrugh is a message that I have seen on posters and chalked across paving slabs along the University walkways. The message is not immediately apparent for those not in the know. Seeing one example near the library, I thought that perhaps the Vanbrugh JCR were trying to extend the boundaries of Vanbrugh College, perhaps with a view to a full campus take-over! But no.

That, given about ten seconds of thought, seemed quite implausible – the JCR have enough on their hands with Vanbrugh. What else could it be? Could it be another college trying to get their hands on our shiny new dining hall and cafeteria?

The actual campaign behind the slogans I saw is quite a modest one – people who used Vanbrugh before it was refitted want to carry on using it. That does not sound particularly radical to me. Surely a campaign like that would simply need a ‘please’ to a reasonable person in charge, as opposed to an organised public/student awareness campaign? However, a quiet and rational ‘please’ would only work given one important assumption, that the people in charge are reasonable. In terms of results, it seems that that would be far too presumptuous.

Am I too quick to point the finger? The simple relocation of societies from one large hall to another surely cannot be considered unreasonable? There are other large spaces on campus that would be just as useful to societies as Vanbrugh (it is the space not the décor of Vanbrugh that is wanted – I’ll get to that in a minute). We have Langwith and Goodricke halls that could be utilised in the same way. If these alternatives were practical, then the protest would not have a case.

However, as far as I can see, the alternatives are not practical. Langwith hall’s closure next term will squeeze everyone into Goodricke. Can Goodricke cope? Apparently, even now it is impossible to book space there because of the committed Pole Dancing Soc using it with great frequency. Maybe I misunderstand, but I cannot see Yoga Soc sharing with Pole Dancing Soc. The serious point here is that they really should not have to.

It is certainly true that the refit of Vanbrugh has made it a nicer place to be (it is a lot cleaner and feels less like a rugby clubhouse) although I have a major gripe about the use of the Mondrian style. It does not take a Professor of Art History to tell you that our dear old Piet was all about clean lines and uninterrupted blocks of colour.

So why have the designers of Vanbrugh ignored that and whacked two great big splurges of disorganised mess in the middle of an otherwise effective décor? I refer, if it is not obvious, to the two paintings hung on the walls of the Vanbrugh dining hall. This aesthetic (and perhaps personal) complaint may be irrelevant to the Vanbrugh campaign.

However, the confusion is analogous to the confusion of kicking societies out – the whole point of Mondrian is his straight lines and bold colours, and the whole point of a college is the combination of the social, functional and academic activities that take place within it. Not only do admin demonstrate a clear lack of appreciation for art – they also fail to recognise what the functions of a college should be!

We waited patiently for the refurbishment of Vanbrugh and now it’s re-opened, students can’t even use it for what they want. There are three words that need to be said to those who have taken away Vanbrugh: Give it back!

Daniel Fairbrother

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