Why is the University of Essex so ugly?

The University of Essex is well known among political scientists for several reasons: its political science department is excellent, the ECPR central services are located there, and it has hosted a methods summer school for over 40 years.

Especially because of the latter, many of us have had the pleasure to marvel at the ugliness of its buildings and get lost in their labyrinths in search of a lecture room or a computer lab (one swinging door after the other), wondering what the architects were thinking. Well, Daniel Hamermesh at the Freakonomics blog has the answer:

[T]he British government imposes a value-add tax on building extensions, so that if the buildings are joined on each floor, the extension is heavily taxed. To avoid this, the University struck a deal with the taxman to allow one internal door between adjoining buildings, allowing what is merely an extension to be treated as a new edifice and to escape taxation.


5 thoughts on “Why is the University of Essex so ugly?

  1. I understand that the tax evasion rationale explains why the buildings bear close resemblance to labyrinths inside, but I don’t see why that implies they have to be ugly? Or is there also a tax in Britain on beautiful architecture?

  2. While I’m not sure whether this is actually true, it sounds credible enough. A different account holds that HM’s government changed the rules for what was to be deemed ‘adequate’ teaching space during the latter part of the construction phase. Before the key date, the government required a certain number of cubic feet per student. After day X, they changed their definition to a square feet-based measure and reduced their funding accordingly. As a consequence some storeys are lower than others, resulting in the very confusing floor 5/floor 5A/floor5B arrangement. Or maybe it was the other way around. Of course, there is zero evidence to support either story.

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