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Amanda Levete wins planning for Wadham College student centre

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Amanda Levete’s practice AL_A has won permission for two new buildings at Christopher Wren’s alma mater: Wadham College, University of Oxford

Levete, the recipient of this year’s Jane Drew Prize, landed the job in 2016 following an invited competition run by the historic college, seeing off Cooke Fawcett, WilkinsonEyre and Design Engine.

Backed by benefactors William Doo and Lee Shau Kee, the connected two-block project in the college’s Back Quad will replace the existing Goddard Building built in 1951.

The William Doo Undergraduate Centre will improve facilities for Wadham’s 450 undergraduate students, while the outreach and access centre – the Dr Lee Shau Kee Building – will host visiting school students participating in the college’s access programme.

Wadham College warden Ken Macdonald said: ‘This inspiring new undergraduate centre and purpose-built facilities for access and outreach, the first of their kind in Oxford, signal our faith in the college’s future, and mark its continuing confidence in the harmony between learning and beauty that our foundation buildings express so well.”

These two buildings are modest in scale, but high in aspiration

Levete commented: ‘These two buildings are designed to radiate openness. Modest in scale, but high in aspiration, they express the liberal and egalitarian values of the college and create a sense of belonging for students and staff. Reflecting changes in the way students work and socialise, they are open and transparent, and use the life of the college to animate the buildings.’

Wadham College was founded in 1610 by Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham, and is one of the largest University of Oxford colleges, with 200 graduate and 450 undergraduate students. Notable alumni include Christopher Wren who designed the Sheldonian Theatre nearby and St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The main college building was designed by William Arnold.

Work on the new undergraduate and access centres is set to start in July 2018 and completed by August 2020.

The architect’s view

The Dr Lee Shau Kee Building is an ambitious investment in the future – an investment in people who are not yet members of the college. It is a bold statement and the most significant project of its kind in Oxford – but that is Wadham does and projects like this are what sets this college apart.

The William Doo Undergraduate Centre is a recognition of the huge importance of social spaces – because these are places where students will meet friends and collaborators for life. The range of social spaces will encourage new forms of interaction for Wadham’s student body to come together to mix, talk, relax and eat together. They will become the nexus of college life.

The two buildings are distinct, each with their own identity, yet physically connected – their relationship is one of brother and sister.

Sitting at the heart of the historic college, the development aims to strengthen the campus experience by reinforcing the adjacent quads and encouraging improved connectivity and accessibility across the site.

The remodelled external stair between the Back Quad and Library Terrace creates a real sense of place. Its curved form and gently rising steps are a place to stop, meet and linger as well as to connect. It captures sunlight throughout the day, dappled by the mature trees. It is a space that will be animated by students on their way to the library.

William Doo Undergraduate Centre is an extrovert building

Each building appears distinct from outside, with its own main entrance, but inside the two share their circulation. A feature stair becomes a graphic line rising up through the two buildings and knitting them together.

Both buildings speak of modernity, but with sensitivity to their context.

The Dr Lee Shau Kee Building has a singular character, with a two-dimensional graphic pattern that creating the illusion of depth. Colours taken from the stained-glass windows of the chapel are expressed in subtle pastel shades behind the glass, adding warmth and lightness.

The William Doo Undergraduate Centre is glazed in a delicate, more transparent skin. Its glass façade is etched to create a horizontal rhythm as a counterpoint to the vertical rhythm of its neighbour. An extrovert building, the colour comes from within as it reveals the social life inside as well as reflecting the movement on the steps leading up to the library terrace.

04 wadham college elephant gate view copyright al a

04 wadham college elephant gate view copyright al a

Project data

Location Oxford, UK
Type of project Higher education
Client Wadham College
Architect AL_A
Landscape architect Churchman Landscape Architects
Planning consultant Turnberry Planning
Structural engineer Arup
M&E consultant Arup
Façade engineer Eckersley O’Callaghan
Quantity surveyor Gleeds Cost Management
Project manager Bidwells
Start on site date July 2018
Completion date August 2020
Gross internal floor area 1,760m2 (2,257m2, including retained basement)

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