An innovative look at an iconic gay bar from the 1970s and 1980s has resulted in Lizzie Osborne becoming the first University of Huddersfield student to win a national award from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Lizzie’s fanzine-style dissertation about The Gemini Club in Huddersfield has won RIBA’s President’s Medal.
‘Cesspits of Filth’ is a speculative project that studies the history of The Gemini, which became an iconic venue. Once described as ‘The Studio 54 of The North’, The Gemini was shut down in 1983 following a series of raids, being branded as a ‘Cesspit of sexual filth’ by the West Yorkshire Police.
Reflecting on the visceral and traumatic impact of police brutality and surveillance of queer spaces, intertwined with the AIDS crisis, this dissertation aims to challenge our concepts of vernacular histories and spaces of survival.
“I’m feeling extremely encouraged and validated by receiving the RIBA Dissertation Award,” says Lizzie. “I was impressed to have been just nominated for the award, but to be Huddersfield’s first winner of an RIBA student title is a great feeling!
“Being able to spotlight such a relic of Yorkshire’s queer history is incredibly important for me and other people to see. I would like to thank my tutors, Nic Clear and Hyun Jun Park, for all their support over the past year. I would also like to thank West Yorkshire Queer Stories, whose oral histories of Yorkshire’s LGBTQ+ community helped shaped my project tremendously.”
Professor Clear added, “Lizzie’s dissertation looks at the emergence of a distinctive and important sub-culture in the town of Huddersfield during the late 19070’s and early 1980’s, which ran alongside a broader set of activisms in music and politics, and argues that these activities formed a specific regional identity, or vernacular.
“The work articulates important conceptions of personal and collective architectural space around themes of sexuality and alterity. Its subject matter is highly pertinent to current debates and through its use of archive and original material it is beautifully realised.
“The fact that this is the first time that a Huddersfield architecture student has won one of the major RIBA awards is testament to ambitious and innovative approach to architectural education that is currently being developed with the courses.”
The following is from RIBA’s website and further explores Lizzie’s work.
When Lizzie Osborne found a newspaper reference to a 1980s gay bar in Huddersfield described as a ‘cesspit of filth’, their interest was piqued.
“I was curious to see what makes somewhere eligible to be given such a visceral description. I wanted to understand the space and figure out how to describe queer history through architectural thought and drawing,” they said.
The result is the Medal-winning dissertation Cesspits of Filth: Queer Vernaculars in West Yorkshire 1975-1985, presented in a distinctive fanzine-style that conveys a vivid flavour of time and place. This extends right down to sections named after tracks on playlists at The Gemini Club, the venue on the outskirts of Huddersfield town centre that provides the focus of the dissertation.