Irvine: The Hall with a Spine and Room to Grow!

One of the interesting features in the design of the original buildings that house the University of the West Indies (UWI) is that they were made with expansion in mind. Modernist architect Graham Dawbarn said in the Architectural Review in 1948 that his aims were “sufficient space for long-term development” and “a pattern whereby development may retain coherent shape”.

Irvine Hall, the first of the then UCWI’s residential buildings, which opened in 1951, is a prime example. The spine design, which Dawbarn also used for the new college’s important science schools, was one of three proposed designs for halls of residence. All the residential blocks connect directly to the covered spine which starts at the hall administration and common room area. Like the science spine, Irvine’s design allowed space for infilling.

N&D Hall of Res drawing 1953 Architectural Review

“The design certainly encouraged liming (informal getting together) especially as in my day the first three blocks were female”, former Irvinite and retired Archivist John Aarons recalls. “Then to get to the dining room or to the entrance, everyone had to walk down the spine so there was a lot of intermingling of students. The blocks in Chancellor and Taylor are stand-alone so it is not the same.  Life in Irvine was really shaped by the Spine.”

Chancellor, Taylor and later Seacole are other early halls of residence designed by Dawbarn.

Founding Principal Dr Thomas Taylor understood the architect’s intention: “All buildings have been sited so that they have plenty of room for expansion and sites have been allocated for buildings which cannot be built at the moment…in addition to the buildings, roads, water mains, sewage, electricity distribution and so on have to be provided for out of the available capital…” (Taylor, Caribbean Quarterly Vol 2 #1)

Dawbarn, one of the British modernist school that came to prominence after World War 2, paid special attention to climatic and geographic considerations, factors that affected decisions on building heights and depths – with earthquake threats and the need to facilitate air flow in mind.



  1. Really true! My memories of being on Irvine Hall (1979-82) in addition to the nurturing presence of our warden Mr. Cedric Harper always include that of the “spine”. It created a village effect that kept the Irvine spirit alive as we walked back and forth to the dining room and the porter’s lodge checking with Mr. Wright for mail or arranging a phone call. The spine kept us talking and connected. A great example of how architecture can shape our social lives! As we sang back then and still today….. “Irvine Hall, Irvine Hall; the greatest Hall!”


    • Thanks for your comment. I understand that Irvine is to be levelled and a new hall built. I hope that the architecture will also take the students’ social interaction into account, especially as this is such as important aspect of university experience!


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