Oxford City Council has approved Gort Scott’s competition-winning scheme for a new riverside block for St Hilda’s College at Oxford University
The practice saw off competition from DRDH, 6A Architects, Tim Ronalds Architects, and Hall McKnight to win the Malcolm Reading Consultants-run contest in early 2016.
The unanimous but conditional approval (on the decorative element of the project) came despite an objection from neighbouring college Christ Church, which claimed the ’inelegant and bulky’ scheme overlooking the River Cherwell would ruin its view.
The project will create a new gateway to the college and includes social and conference spaces, suites of academic and teaching rooms, a common room and 59 new student rooms.
Gort Scott’s design features a pair of new buildings with an ‘extended landscape which will transform the entrance and core of the college and make the most of its unique location’.
The proposals also include a tower that, according to the practice, has been ‘carefully gauged in its height and proportions not to compete with this historic skyline of Oxford, but to complement and enhance this already rich and varied horizon’.
It is understood the tower element of the design will be referred back to the planning committee for final approval.
This is an important milestone towards delivering the college’s vision
Practice co-founder Jay Gort said: ‘This is a fantastic achievement for the college and the design team, and is an important milestone towards delivering the college’s vision for refreshing its public presence and making the most of its beautiful riverside setting.’
Founded in 1893, St Hilda’s was one of five former women-only colleges in Oxford before it began accepting male students eight years ago.
Famous alumnae include poet Wendy Cope, Liberal Democrat politician Susan Kramer, broadcaster Zeinab Badawi and IT Crowd actor Katherine Parkinson.
Other architects to have worked for St Hilda’s include Alison and Peter Smithson, who designed the 1968 Garden Building, and van Heyningen and Haward – the practice behind the college’s 1995 Jacqueline du Pré Music Building.
The Redefining St Hilda’s project forms part of the college’s 125th anniversary celebrations and was originally set to start on site last summer.
Construction is now scheduled to begin this summer and complete in 2020.
Gort Scott’s approved scheme for St Hilda’s college - April 2018. Entrance view.
The proposal focuses strongly on responding to the extraordinary riverside setting. It connects the existing north and south lawns, so that they read as one picturesque garden, in which sits a new riverside pavilion. This garden is then enclosed by a strong, brick building on Cowley Place, seen as a ‘third sister’ to the existing South and Hall buildings of the College, with decorative brickwork and stone detailing. This new ‘Boundary building’ incorporates the majority of the new accommodation, and rises to a tower at the new entrance to the college.
The proposal creates a much more direct entryway to the college from Cowley Place into the heart of the college estate and provides glimpses through the beautiful gardens towards the river from the street.
A slender gatehouse tower, with decorative crenellation which references symbols of the college, forms part of the Oxford skyline on this eastern edge of the city centre. It is proposed to be topped by a decorative artwork that signals to the city the college’s garden setting, to be lit softly from the interior at night.
Oxford is world-famous for its skyline of ‘dreaming spires’. The proposals include a tower that has been carefully gauged in its height and proportions not to compete with this historic skyline of Oxford, but to complement and enhance this already rich and varied horizon.
In doing so, the tower creates an orienting marker for St Hilda’s College within the wider network of colleges and within the University itself. It will be the only college tower to the east of the River Cherwell.