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Stirling Prize: How did Herzog & de Meuron build the Blavatnik School of Government?

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‘Central to a school of government is the idea of openness, communication and transparency’, say Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron


Our starting point was from the inside, from the heart of the building, the forum. This space cuts through the school as a vertical public space connecting all the levels and programmes together into one whole. Central to a school of government is the idea of openness, communication and transparency. The central forum takes this principle literally by stitching all levels together. In the first instance, the forum provides access between spaces, but more importantly it provides congregation, meeting and social spaces.

Its arrangement is in many ways like that of an auditorium or a concert hall, with a series of interconnected terraces that step up from the ground floor all the way to the upper levels. Each terrace could operate as a separate space, for example as a study area, or as part of one connected whole volume for a larger presentation. The forum is a space that allows and positively encourages communication and discussion, formal and informal, planned and accidental.

The school houses teaching and academic spaces, supported by meeting, administration, research and service areas, all connected by the forum. At its lower levels it houses large public and teaching programmes, while the upper levels are occupied by academic and research programs that require a quieter atmosphere. Crowning the school will be student and faculty spaces, overlooking an outdoor terrace, the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ) and the whole of Oxford beyond. The school offers a wide range of teaching spaces, from small flexible seminar rooms to larger, horseshoe-shaped teaching rooms.

The concept of the forum in the interior sets the decisive and room-defining impulse for the entire building. This circular hollow also defines the school’s exterior appearance. Its cylindrical shapes show analogies to government buildings and universities in different places all over the world.

The school’s immediate context is complex, being adjacent to Somerville College and the former St Paul’s Church, with the Oxford University Press close by across Walton Street. It is prominently located at the south-west corner of the ROQ, and will be the first building pedestrians encounter when approaching the quarter from the south, so it has the potential to become a gateway into this new part of the university and a symbol of its development.

Our proposal of a series of shifted discs, pure geometric circles, is developed from the parameters of the site and plot boundaries. The shifting in floors creates overhangs and covered volumes, and reflects the principles of the masterplan massing with the mass of the building moved north-west towards the centre of the ROQ site.

The main entrance is located in the middle of the Walton Street elevation in a Classical manner, centred underneath the main teaching floor of Level 1 whose circular geometry is transformed into a rectangular form along Walton Street, resulting in a ‘Sheldonian’- like shape. The introduction of this orthogonal form addresses the historic setting by continuing the line of the St Paul’s Church portico and echoing the symmetrical entrance of Oxford University Press.

We have aimed to provide a project that could act as a focal point both for the ROQ and the academic activity of the study of government and public policy; a landmark building housing a ground-breaking school.

The materials and products we used

Stirlingmaterials herzog

Blavatnik School of Government by Herzog & de Meuro

Source: Ståle Erikson

  1. Profiled solid stained European oak timber lining to walls by Panel Edge
  2. Cotton and linen fabric wall lining by Romo
  3. Felted and milled wool-faced acoustic ceiling panels by Camira
  4. Rough sawn, square edged, European Oak tongue and groove flooring boards finished with clear water-based extra ultra matt lacquer by AC Flooring
  5. Bespoke surface mounted downlight with uplight glow by Wila
  6. Bespoke pendant up/down LED lamp by Wila
  7. In-situ fair face GGBS concrete by Laing O’Rourke
  8. Seamless textured acoustic finish by Oscar Acoustics
  9. Cast bronze by Gascoigne & Beaver
  10. Smoked European oak tongue and groove flooring boards finished with clear water-based extra ultra matt lacquer by AC Flooring

Source: Jim Stephenson/Laura Mark

Project data

Start on site September 2013
Completion November 2015
Gross internal floor area 9,000m²
Architect Herzog & de Meuron
Client University of Oxford
Structural engineer Pell Frischmann
M&E consultant Hoare Lea
Landscape architect Townshend Landscape Architects
Quantity surveyor EC Harris
Sustainability consultant Aecom
Facade consultant Murphy Facade Studio
Planning consultant Montagu Evans
Project manager Oxford University Estates Services and Gardiner & Theobald
Main contractor Laing O’Rourke

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