4. The Marble Hall

Image: George Mather

This space was originally designed by Powell & Moya as a bare concrete space, stark and raw. But when Sir Isaac Wolfson saw what had been built, he had other ideas, and the force of his personality (and his financial standing as the funder of the College’s construction) meant that he had his way. He was determined that the space should have a fitting grandeur, and he therefore ordered that it be entirely clad in Carrara marble, from the famous quarry in Italy.

The issue was that the proportions of the space had already been set by the concrete building and cladding them with marble would constrict the space. But that is what happened.

So, for example, if you look at the windows looking out onto the Berlin Quad, the marble angles sharply down to the window rather than being flush. As one goes up the staircase to the Upper Common Room, people regularly bump their head on the corner, which has had to be given a protective surface; in the original pre-marble design this was not a problem. And if one goes back down to the staircase up into the marble hall from the Berlin Quad outside, you will see that the marble has again had to be cut at a sharp angle to ensure it fits within the side awnings which were already in place.

Image: George Mather

Sir Isaac Wolfson of course also had his name carved on the marble seat in the Marble Hall. The seat does provide an excellent location for admiring whatever artwork the College places on the large empty wall opposite. Since 2020 this has been the piece Albus, by the British artist Marcus Harvey. The piece plays with ideas of whiteness (‘Albus’ meaning white), featuring cliffs which remind the viewer of Vera Lynn’s nostalgic The White Cliffs of Dover. But far from summoning ideas of homecoming during the Second World War, as Lynn’s song famously did, this picture is darker, more ominous, and might be argued to truer to a Britain which is less welcoming of refugees and other Europeans than it used to be.

Image: George Mather

Other pieces in the Marble Hall include the British sculptor Anthony Caro’s 1982 piece Double Half, donated to the College by the artist; the provocative piece The Butcher’s Arms or My boyfriend is a vegan by the Brazilian artist Adriano Costa, spray-painted on cowhide; and one of the seven pieces by British contemporary artist Marc Quinn known as Emotional Detox: Seven Deadly Sins, which reassure students with exam anxiety that things could be worse.

Tim Hitchens