Image: Ellie MacArthur / The Boar News

How the FAB started construction: A time capsule and ancient Greek offerings?

Today the Faculty of Arts Building (FAB) is used by students on a daily basis. Rushing to seminars up the narrow wooden stairs, enjoying a coffee with friends, attending lectures; it is the stage for all the scenes of academic life for students taking arts degrees. 

But did you know that below our feet lies a time capsule and that we study and work in a building whose construction was marked by the pouring of wine, milk, and honey into the ground as an offering to ancient Greek Gods?

The time capsule was buried in the middle of the FAB in a tightly sealed metal tube which contains a copy of The Boar and the Coventry Telegraph, some photographs, and a message from a Faculty of Arts student to future students. Taped to the outside, there is also a poem that the people opening the capsule in the future might not be able to make out:

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.”

-TS Eliot, Four Quartets

Before the FAB took its central spot on the University of Warwick’s campus in its place stood a multi-story car park, which was torn down to make way for a far more beautiful building. Construction started in April 2019.

To celebrate the commencement of construction work on the FAB, on 19 November 2019 the now distant “Faculty of Arts Development Construction Commencement Ceremony” was held. At that time, only some concrete pillars stood out of the freshly laid foundation. There was no roof, no cladding, no stairs, and no slowly-rotating doors.

Members of academic staff, some students, and executives from the main construction contractor Bowmer + Kirkland gathered around one of the central concrete pillars as grey autumn skies looked over us. I was lucky to attend as the first-year History and Politics Student Staff Liaison Committee (SSLC) representative.

Attendees were first greeted by Mr James Breckon, Director of Estates. Then followed a statement from the then-Chair of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Penny Roberts, and the then-Bowmer + Kirkland regional director, Steve Chambers.

After the welcoming speeches, two libations (an act of pouring a liquid as a sacrifice), one to the ancient Greek Gods Apollo and his Muses and a second to all the Greek Gods, were held by Dr Paul Grigsby of the Department of Classics and Ancient History and four Classics students. Dr Grigsby told attendees at the ceremony that he had been deputised to oversee the libation by the renowned Professor of Classics, Michael Scott.

While it was first conceived jovially that offerings should be made to the Greek Gods of the Earth, instead offerings were made to Apollo and the Muses. As the original idea would have included the slaughter of an animal, Dr Grigsby then jokingly told the crowd that: “I notice that Rolf (the campus cat) isn’t here today”. The gathered chuckled.

Therefore, an offer to Apollo and his Muses was deemed more appropriate for the new FAB building as these Muses are meant to symbolically inspire and support all of the arts. Reproductions of ancient Greek amphorae and libation bowls (phiales) were used to pour honey and milk (and in the second libation, wine) into a hole around where the main staircase of the completed FAB starts on the ground floor today.

Dr Grigsby then justified the need for the second libation to all the Gods with a short statement:

“Because Greek Gods and all Gods are normally quite jealous, and don’t want to be left out, we’ve got a second libation of one of the world’s cheapest bottles of wine to all of the Gods”.

As members of the Classics department poured their offerings to the ancient Greek deities, they read a fragment of Terpander, a 7th Century BC Greek poet known as the father of lyric poetry:

“Let us pour libation to the Muses,

the daughters of Memory,

and to the leader of the Muses,

Leto’s son”

“Σπένδωμεν ταῖς Μνάμας

παισὶν Μούσαις

καὶ τῷ Μουσάρχῳ

Λατοῦς υἱεῖ”.

In the second libation to all the Gods, an altered form of the first poem to reflect the plurality of Gods was offered with the wine pouring.

Following the libation by the Classics department, the time capsule was placed in the same hole used for the pouring of offerings. Future analysis might puzzle archaeologists when they find traces of wine, milk, and honey on the time capsule.

No date was specified for the opening of the time capsule. Perhaps students and staff will be able to examine the contents long into the future when the present-day FAB is torn down for its successor.

To conclude the commencement ceremony, the then Chair of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Penny Roberts ceremonially released the formwork of the first column of the FAB. This symbolised the beginning of the above-ground construction of the FAB.

“On 19 November 2019, Professor Penny Roberts on behalf of the Faculty of Arts, released the formwork from the first column of the concrete frame to mark the start of construction of the new faculty building, which will nurture collaboration in research and teaching and allow creativity and innovation to flourish.”

Commemoration Plaque of FAB

A plaque was used to mark this, stating:

“On 19 November 2019, Professor Penny Roberts on behalf of the Faculty of Arts, released the formwork from the first column of the concrete frame to mark the start of construction of the new faculty building, which will nurture collaboration in research and teaching and allow creativity and innovation to flourish”.

The official opening ceremony of the completed FAB was held on 20 May 2022. It was then followed by the FAB Fest, a festival which celebrated the Arts at Warwick.

Reflecting on the rather unique commencement of the construction ceremony held in November 2019, the FAB’s history already holds interesting surprises. I am certain, however, that staff and students were happy to leave behind the cramped and dilapidated Humanities Building, which was used to house all Arts degrees and move into the FAB, designed by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios.


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