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Corner to Corner

OK, so this man builds a house, right. It’s just a rectangular house and it’s in the middle of an open piece of land. He lives there with his family for a few years and is very happy. The sun shines on the house, it’s convenient, dry, safe and it has gorgeous views. In fact it’s in a very good place; the man chose his spot well.

Then, some years later, his friend, who’s been visiting for a while, decides he’d like to come and live there too. That’s not a problem; the two men are friends after all. Everyone is happy that there should be two houses near to each other. The only question is, “Where exactly should the second man build his house in relation to that of the first man?”

Regular readers will already know that I strongly believe that where a building is built is actually more important than what it looks like. Why? Because, it is the decisions about where every building is put which determine the places which exist, or don’t, between one building and the next, and it is those places, or non places, where most of us live our lives…

Consequently, I am interested in how people have, over the last hundred thousand years or so, made those decisions about where to place buildings.

It seems to me that the apparently simple decision faced by our two friends must have occurred millions of times over that period since building began, and that the problem in many ways hasn’t changed at all. Do they decide to put the second house along side the first house? Or opposite the first house? Or fifty yards away from the first house? Or…the options are actually quite limited. If you’ve been camping, you’ll certainly have faced these very basic but fascinating and important choices and will have a feel for how important such issues are.

If you build the second house far away, it will be a constant bore to walk from one to the other. If you join them together, you will hear your friend making love. If you put the houses opposite one another, you will block each other’s view and waste half the day watching how your friend lives his life. You might build the second house alongside the first one if there is a road running right past but, otherwise, my hunch is that most of us would build corner to corner.

If you build the second house corner to corner with the first, you’re close enough to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar, but not so close that you can hear what you don’t want to hear. You haven’t blocked more of each other’s view than you need to. And, if you’re sensible enough to face the two houses south and west, you’ll create a place which is warm throughout most afternoons.

Exactly…this isn’t really rocket science! Look about you today and I guarantee that pretty much wherever you find a congenial place between buildings, it will be because someone has decided to build a building ‘corner to corner’ with one that was already there. Try it!


Well, the example I have in mind is not quite so simple as the one imagined above but I think it makes the point nevertheless. I have recently been carrying out some advisory work at Jesus College, Cambridge and, while I have yet to grasp the full history of how the College’s buildings have developed, I can tell you that it happened more or less in the manner shown on this simple animated plan (which I hope will open for you! If not, I’ll try to include it next week):

First Court, Jesus College, Cambridge. The building on the right is thought to be part of the original Monastic Buildings from which the College developed. The building ahead was built between 1638 and 1640. ‘Corner to corner’ tightly…








North Court, Jesus College, Cambridge. The building on the right was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and erected 1869-1870. That on the left is by David Roberts and erected 1963-66. ‘Corner to corner’, but perhaps not quite close enough to enclose?

Library Court, Jesus College, Cambridge. The building on the right was designed by Percy Morley Horder and built in 1927-30. That ahead, the Quincentennial Library, is by Evans and Shalev and was opened in 1996. ‘Corner to corner’ and quite cleverly articulated to achieve both enclosure of the court and separate identities for the buildings.

Yes, some of the most congenial places between buildings that you might find…

You should visit; the College is almost always open to visitors.


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