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Great Detail: Teresa Borsuk on ABK’s Keble College cloister

Aj great detail crop2

The next in a series looking at the building details that have impressed and inspired our readers. Today: Teresa Borsuk of Pollard Thomas Edwards

Architect Ahrends, Burton and Koralek (ABK)
Building De Breyne and Hayward Buildings, Keble College, Oxford (1971-77)

Section through glazed wall

Section through glazed wall


Abk keeble 1

Honey-coloured bricks and pavers, and bronze-painted aluminium patent glazing angled over a half-sunken walkway coiling around a grassed courtyard… This detail still evokes one of my earliest memorable architectural experiences – a walk through this cloister at Ahrends, Burton and Koralek’s extension to Keble College, Oxford. What has stayed with me is its overall simplicity; the restricted palette of materials and an elegant section.

The wall, battered for structural efficiency, retains the grassed garden beyond. Inside and outside flow freely. The angle works delightfully – opening out the walkway to the sky, enhancing the sense of space and enabling a simple, efficient and orthogonal relationship with the patent glazing bars and glass. The section is maintained through the walkway’s sinuous course. The geometry is clever.

The contrast between the open and lightweight, and the closed and more solid – the light canopy perched over a masonry and concrete base and the juxtaposition of masonry, concrete and glass – is typical of ABK’s work. The assembly and layering of the various components is uncomplicated and rational. It’s a contextual Modernism.

Abk keeble 3

Abk keeble 3

The sparseness of the detail is certainly of its time. No one here was too concerned with cold-bridging and Psi or U-values… I haven’t been back in a while. I wonder how it has fared.

Teresa Borsuk is senior partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects and winner of 2015 Woman Architect of the Year. For information about entering the 2017 awards, click here.

More on this project

You can see the full working detail, plus drawings and images in the AJ Buildings LibraryThe AJ Buildings Library is a resource exclusively for subscribers. Click here for information on our subscription packages.


Readers' comments (2)

  • I know this cloister well - my husband was a grad student at Keble. It is an amazing space - rugged yet refined. There have been trees in the middle for a long time and they make it even more special, especially through the seasons. I have spent most of my life in colleges around the world and this suite of buildings is one of the very best.

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  • ed frith

    Inspiring - we had to recreate the section across the cloister at 1:1 as a first year architecture exercise after a visit and survey. Remarkable work fascinating to reflect on its quality and that of the practice, and Richard Burton 30 plus years later.

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