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Designs for the new library, schools and museums of the University of Cambridge

Architectural drawings by C.R. Cockerell

An exhibition by Max Bryant, winner of the second Cambridge University Library/Art History Student curatorial competition

Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863) was arguably the finest British architectural draughtsman of the 19th century. From 1829 to 1840, he was involved in an ambitious and ultimately aborted project by the University of Cambridge to construct a vast building to house its lecture rooms, teaching collections and library. The quantity of documentation relating to the project is unprecedented in the architect’s oeuvre: a complete archive seems to have been retained, representing every type of architectural drawing. These range from enormous competition pieces intended for a lay audience to densely-worked sketches recording transitional designs. This small display presents examples of five contrasting types: sketch, explanatory and competition drawings, and pencil and watercolour studies.

The Cockerell family donated most of the project archive to the university in 1887, where the drawings were bound in large folios. However the finest ones were retained, and donated by Cockerell’s grandson Robert Pepys Cockerell in 1900. These were not bound, making their presentation here possible. A final volume of small-scale drawings was donated and bound in 1930. This is the first public exhibition of drawings relating to the project since a display in 1863 at the Royal Academy marking Cockerell’s death.