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Allies and Morrison completes student housing for Wadham College, Oxford

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The Dorothy Wadham Building is a residential quad for undergraduates on a site in the Iffley Fields, south-east of Oxford

Aiming to convey a strong collegiate identity, the project comprises a quad of four individual buildings arranged around a courtyard garden.

Three and four storeys in height, they accommodate 135 ensuite bedrooms clustered as 21 individual flats of six rooms with a shared kitchen and dining room. Additional accommodation includes rooms adapted for wheelchair users, student work rooms, a laundrette, a flat for the live-in site manager, offices, porter’s lodge and reception. Part of the quad is a single-storey ‘garden pavilion’ which is used as an informal common room for students in term time, and a conference and teaching facility throughout the summer.

Wadham oxford aam 01

Wadham oxford aam 01

Source: Nick Guttridge

As the site is on the edge of a conservation area, a principal challenge for the development was the need for new institutional architecture to sit comfortably in a residential setting of heritage value. The brief demanded a high-quality building which represents the college in this prominent location – sitting on Iffley Road, a main arterial road into Oxford. The new buildings are thus scaled according to the hierarchy of the streets they front, from 3.5 storeys on to the Iffley Road, stepping down to 2.5 storeys on side streets.

The buildings framing the quad are separated, with gaps which allow passers-by to see into the courtyard. The arrangement of spaces around shared gardens is intended to engender a sense of community among undergraduates. A gabled roofscape, regular windows and the use of light brick and timber framing is designed to respond to the neighbourhood’s residential character while still embodying a contemporary spirit.

The design aims to exceed Oxford’s sustainability targets, with the building oriented east-west and naturally ventilated, using attenuated acoustic vents to reduce background noise from the Iffley Road. Combined heat and power is also integrated into the design as is sustainable urban drainage and the potential for solar power.

Wadham oxford aam 06

Wadham oxford aam 06

Architect’s view

The new Dorothy Wadham Building gives Wadham College’s second-year students the option of high-quality college-owned accommodation with greater pastoral care. The new building houses the entire year group in one place for the first time.

After some searching, the college procured the site in 2015: a disused car showroom and petrol station in south-east Oxford, a short walk or bike ride from Wadham College and the city centre.

The variety of volumes created by the gabled roof forms an exciting mix of attic rooms with real character and views across the meadow, a quality which the client enjoyed about the initial competition scheme and encouraged throughout the design development.

The strong buff brick and zinc exterior harmonise with the domestic and decidedly Oxfordian setting of the site. Inside, the ‘garden’ courtyard is softened with locally sourced ash timber cladding which has been heat treated and pre-weathered to reduce movement. The use of ash is continued internally with bespoke panelling and joinery. Exposed CLT adds something unexpected to the stairs and communal spaces, lending warmth to the interior.

The perimeter buildings shield an inner courtyard, creating a calm oasis in an otherwise busy external environment. Rooms facing the road have been designed with attenuated ventilation, further allowing for places for quiet study.

Seen on entry to the courtyard, a single-storey ‘Garden Room’ lines the eastern edge of the quad and is used as an informal common room for students in term time and a flexible teaching facility and dining hall in summer.

The common kitchens look over the internal courtyard. The transparency of these rooms provides a backdrop of activity to the central space. It is these shared spaces, along with the careful crafting of a collegiate environment in an altogether new location for the college, which come together to engender a strong sense of community among the undergraduates living here.

Simon Fraser, partner, Allies and Morrison 

Wadham oxford aam 09

Wadham oxford aam 09

Client’s view

The Dorothy Wadham Building is beautiful in form and graceful in function. Situated adjacent to one of Oxford’s conservation areas, the building has managed to capture essential features of the traditional Oxford quad, while also being modern, sleek and striking, and at the same time harmonising with the neighbouring buildings. It is a building that the college can be proud of, a wonderful home for our students, and a very fine addition to our estate.

Peter Alsop, finance bursar, Wadham College

Ground floor

Ground floor

Source: Allies and Morrison

Ground floor plan

Project data

Gross internal floor area 5,432m²
Gross (internal + external) floor area 6,185m²
Construction cost Undisclosed
Architect Allies and Morrison
Client Wadham College, University of Oxford
Structural engineer EngineersHRW
Services engineer Skeely & Couch
Transport consultant Paul Basham Associates
Access consultant David Bonnets Associates
Planning consultant Carter Jonas
Heritage consultant Cotswold Archaeology
Ecology consultant Lockhart Garratt
Acoustic engineer Ramboll Environ
Cost consultant PSP
Project manager Bidwells
Landscape architect Bradley Hole Schoenaich
Fire engineer The Fire Surgery
Main contractor Gilbert Ash

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