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Avanti's new plans for Florey come under fire

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Critics have slammed designs by Avanti Architects to squeeze an extra 25 rooms into James Stirling’s Florey Building in Oxford and create a new two-storey annex building

The plans to reconfigure the 1971 student residences building – the last of Stirling’s so-called ‘red trilogy’ - have been submitted to Oxford City Council on behalf of the building’s owner, Queen’s College. 

But the proposals for the Grade II-listed building, which involve some internal demolitions, have received a frosty reception from experts on Stirling’s work.

Alan Berman, founding partner at Berman Guedes Stretton, said: ‘Years ago I suggested the college would do well to appoint Avanti, whose Modernist restoration work is exemplary, so I was delighted they won the competition.

‘Alas the proposal for Florey lets down the practice, the college and most importantly Jim Stirling and the Modernist corpus, with a design that all but wrecks the essence of this unique building.

‘Knowing that Avanti have the skill, and having been privileged to see some of many different iterations, I can only conclude they are trying to pack too much additional accommodation on to the site.

‘[The] planners must demand a rethink.’

Stirling’s friend and former colleague Thomas Muirhead said: ‘These proposals must be thrown out and consigned with distaste to the dustbin as a gross violation of Stirling’s intentions.

‘If permitted, they would constitute the comprehensive betrayal, by alteration, of one of the internationally most important buildings of the 20th century.’

Avanti, which landed the prize job in early 2014, is proposing to create additional rooms in the original building by infilling  some of the duplex accommodation on the fourth and fifth floors and reconfiguring the ground-floor accommodation.

Planning documents submitted as part of the application said: ‘There is a strong sense of egalitarianism in how Stirling has ensured all study bedrooms have a view of the central quad and the river.

‘We therefore believe it would run counter to this inclusive ethos to relegate the additional requirement of 24 study bedrooms to a separate side “annexe”.’

This new annexed block will include dining and conference facilities.

A spokesman for the client said: ‘Queen’s College is pleased with the proposals for the refurbishment of the Florey Building and construction of an adjacent annexe.

‘We await the outcome of the planning application and will be very interested to hear the responses of all of the many interested parties.’

Amir Ramezani, director of Avanti Architects also hit back, saying: ’The proposed regeneration project for the Florey Scheme has undergone extensive consultation over the past 18 months and has received wide support from Historic England, Design Council/CABE, local interest and amenity groups.

‘Stirling’s intention for the building to be approached via the riverside was never fulfilled and the scheme improves the building’s setting as well as addressing many of its technical failings.’

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