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Dunelm House Loses Bid for Grade II Listing

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has refused to list Dunelm House, the Durham University students' union building. In doing so, she has rejected advice by Historic England, which recommended that the building receive a Grade II listing.

Ms Bradley said that the five-level award-winning building, which was completed in 1966, did not merit the listing. She stated that the structure was inherently flawed and the design experienced problems such as water ingress.

Excerpts from a letter that Historic England sent to the Twentieth Century Society indicate that the reasons for refusal are:

  • Lack of the special historic interest or architectural interest to merit a listing. Ms Bradley concluded that its technical flaws prevented it from offering sufficient design quality to be of architectural significance.
  • Problems in the design of Dunelm House’s concrete roof. A change to the original design has resulted in ongoing structural problems with water ingress.
  • Insufficient concrete cover over the building’s exterior vertical and horizontal surfaces that could make it necessary to construct another protective shell, thereby changing its appearance.

She said she was inclined to approve a Certificate of Immunity from Listing for Dunelm Home, which would present Durham University with the opportunity to redevelop the block, which connects to the Grade I-listed Kingsgate Bridge.

The Twentieth Century Society, which helped put the listing bid together, condemned the culture secretary’s decision. Director Catherine Croft called Dunelm House a remarkable survivor of its era, with both architectural and historic significance.

She said the society was disappointed that the minister opted to disregard both the Twentieth Century Society and Historic England when making the decision.

Structural Defects Insurance

Roger Bowdler, director for listing at Historic England, confirmed that although they had recommended the building for listing, the secretary of state had decided that Dunelm house did not meet the necessary standards. He pointed out that the listing system allowed for differences of opinion and that most of Historic England’s recommendations were accepted.

Mr Bowdler added that Dunelm House compliments the Kingsgate Footbridge, which is Grade I listed. It has won awards since its 1966 completion and plays a significant role in the World Heritage Site and conservation area. He expressed hope that Durham University would proceed with its redevelopment plans in a way that preserved the site’s heritage significance.

The block has been described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘Brutalist’ in tradition although its elements are highly sensitive in composition and blend gently into the landscape.

Dunelm House won both the RIBA Bronze Medal for 1966 and a Civic Trust Award. The AJ praised it as decidedly modern while remaining respectful to the site’s surrounding splendour.

Durham University’s plans for the site are presently unclear, although in June a university representative admitted that it had applied for a Certificate of Immunity for Dunelm House so that its future can be given proper consideration.

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