Founder’s building of Royal Holloway is beautiful. Its majesty excites the fortunate onlooker. This building is of the rare breed of sights that exceeds the aesthetics of its respective Google Image results. The students that scurry around its many levels of incalculable beauty bring it to life, such as oxygen does to the lungs, you can feel Founder’s breathing its history. However, Founders is not simply a master piece of constructed human vision, but a chapter, a turning point in the history of Britain that is easily overlooked as you succumb to the charm of this building.
Women have historically been valued below men, everyone knows this, from women not being classed as citizens in Ancient Athenian Democracy to the suffragette movement in the 19th century, women have struggled to achieve equality with men. Imagine then, this university. An institution designed solely and firstly for the use of education by women, where they can learn. Learning is intrinsically and pragmatically part of the equality process, it enables equal opportunity but also self-exploration. After all, why did you apply to university? Any reason short of ‘because everyone else was doing it’ falls within the bracket of self-exploration. It is only through delving into what we know and don’t know that we can define ourselves, understanding the motivations behind poetry, great works of art, literature that stirs the soul builds a bridge within yourself that previously was unavailable. Women were able to get degrees, qualifications, skills perspectives that made them empowered. Earning a living and being able to, financially and intellectually, forging your own path in life, became an ability open to women that allows for independence from men that was previously unrivaled.
The incomprehensible levels of Holloway’s social reforms does not just stop with women, it pushed through to the mentally ill. The Sanatorium, built by Thomas Holloway in 1885, was done so in a time where mental illnesses were not properly understood, and where henceforth shunned by society. A sanatorium of such scale, beauty, and proportion, but more importantly, it was modeled after the same design of the first women’s university gave weight to the force that embraced mental illnesses as a problem that should not only be recognized but treated.
This is an important point about architecture. It is not simply a building created to cause people to think a certain thing, to feel a certain way or to act in a manner of your choice, but a chapter. Some buildings act as statues, testaments to human progress and innovation, they capture a moment and hold it forever in their own history.
“Architecture is frozen music”- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe