About Something Fierce

Panoramic photograph of the final master plan of the University of Essex, October 1963

Panoramic photograph of the final master plan of the University of Essex, October 1963.

From 1964 "Something Fierce" emerged in Essex – a new University determined to look to the future and break with tradition. Something Fierce was a major exhibition about the story of the foundation of the University of Essex and 50 years of student life.

It was Sir Winston Churchill, an Essex MP and one of the original donors who helped establish the University of Essex who said "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us" and in no other university in the country is this more true than at the University of Essex.

This exhibition highlighted the values and aspirations of those who founded the University 50 years ago and showed how our architecture set out to faithfully reflect the University’s academic purpose to contribute to society through excellence in education and excellence in research:

  • how it gives physical shape to our commitment to staff and students being members of a community in a university on a human scale
  • how it creates special opportunities for partnership between students and staff that comes from their joint membership of an internationally diverse living and learning community

The Hexagon, one of the iconic buildings built at the birth of the University, hosted the exhibition displays.

Exhibition virtual tour

Exhibition guides

University of Essex - Vision and Reality

50 years of student life

So how did a radical 20th century university which wanted to break the mould end up being built at the centre of historic parkland once painted by Constable? Professor Jules Lubbock explains how Russia's success in the space race originally inspired the push for a university in Essex and how new ideas about higher education started to influence its direction.

In this video, Arts and Gallery Director, Jessica Kenny, talks through highlights of the past five decades of university life at Essex and key moments over the past 50 years including campaigning, research, protests and celebrations.

Who created Something Fierce?

Something Fierce was expertly curated by leading art historian Professor Jules Lubbock, Emeritus Professor of Art History at Essex, and Jessica Kenny our Arts and Gallery Director, supported by designer David Hillman.

By explaining the thinking behind our Colchester Campus they aimed to help students old and new become aware of our heritage and be proud of it.

Square 4 c.1966

Square 4 c.1966.

About the title

The University’s architect Kenneth Capon didn’t want the architecture to be 'shaggy and soft' instead he wanted to create 'something fierce to let them work within’. Shaped by the place in which we live and work, the exhibition details how our architecture has influenced the people who have lived and worked in the University.

In particular it tells the story of how since the 1960s Essex has become home to the tenacious and the bold, home to those that don’t just talk about a better world, but work together to create one - and why challenging convention is in our DNA.

Charting our history

To coincide with Something Fierce we are sharing stories about the University's history and our students' experiences in a unique interactive memory map of the campus.