Conservationists have criticised a ‘short-sighted’ decision to demolish Maguire and Murray’s 1960s Cumberbatch building at Trinity College to make way for an Adam Architecture scheme
The Twentieth Century Society said Oxford City Council’s ruling ‘ignored the significance’ of the existing student accommodation block in the history of the famous institution.
The Cumberbatch building was built in 1965 according to designs by respected post-war religious and educational building architects Keith Murray and Robert Maguire, who died earlier this year. It contains 15 student rooms along with teaching facilities.
Attempts to have the structure listed failed in 2016 when it was granted a certificate of immunity from protection.
The decision comes a month after another Maguire and Murray building, at King’s School in Canterbury, had a listing bid rejected, with it set to be replaced by a Walters & Cohen-designed structure.
Historic England described Trinty College’s Cumberbatch building as ‘not of the very high quality needed for a post-war building to qualify for listed status’ while planning officers dismissed the Maguire and Murray structure as ‘not the finest example of their work’.
But Twentieth Century Society caseworker Clare Price said this week: ‘The society objected to the granting of a certificate of immunity from listing and regrets the decision to demolish the Cumberbatch building, which we consider to be of merit for its bold form and striking appearance.
‘It is an accomplished design, successfully using the contrast of glazing and timber to produce an effect ahead of its time. The building is a well-executed and appropriate contextual addition to Trinity College, designed by the renowned architectural practice of Maguire and Murray and largely unchanged – showing its flexibility for continued use. This is a short-sighted decision which ignores the significance that this building adds to the story of the college.’
Purcell heritage consultant Jon Wright said the loss of the Cumberbatch building was ‘made more acute by the recent death of Robert Maguire himself’.
‘This is post-war architecture demonstrably subtle in its language and deferential to its setting. A uniquely good piece of college planning and with some arresting design features, its real qualities are not shouted, but quietly spoken,’ he said.
‘Trinity does not need a cluster of Neo-Georgian blocks, it needs the confidence to reimagine what it already has and the creativity and skill to adapt it.’
Planning officers disagreed, ruling that ‘any harm to designated and non-designated heritage assets’ caused by the Adam Architecture scheme would be ‘outweighed in this case by the high-quality design and public benefits of the proposed development’.
Describing the Cumberbatch building as ‘incongruous’, Winchester-based Adam said it was aiming to ‘restore the integrity of Trinity College’s overall architectural composition’.
The practice’s proposals consist of a cluster of four buildings, providing 51 ensuite student bedrooms, five dedicated teaching rooms, a multipurpose function room, 18 study spaces and a 148-seat auditorium as well as offices, a café and improved library facilities including disabled access.
It will be the first major development at the Oxford University college for more than 50 years.
Adam described its design as a ‘restrained and pared-back Classical composition that enables the new buildings to harmonise within their surrounding historic setting’.
Practice design director Hugh Petter said: ‘It is a real privilege to work on this amazing project, and to have the opportunity to add a new building to the rich architectural pantheon of Trinity College.
‘It has been a solid team effort, with a dedicated and passionate client body and a strong team of consultants working in collaboration with Oxford City Council and Historic England on this challenging site. We are very proud of our design which will provide a comprehensive and flexible solution to the college’s future needs.’
Trinity College president Dame Hilary Boulding said the plans could ‘transform the experience’ for students and lecturers.
‘This is a heavily constrained site – a listed garden, surrounded by listed buildings, in a conservation area,’ she said. ‘We’ve taken time to understand these constraints, to explore and model options, and we’ve worked collaboratively with a creative and talented team of professionals in order to create a building and landscape design of exceptionally high quality.’
Robert Maguire died recently aged 87. Gerry Adler, deputy head at Kent School of Architecture and author of the book Robert Maguire & Keith Murray (20th Century Architects), remembered him for the AJ earlier this month.
Client Trinity College
Architect Adam Architecture
Landscape architect LDA Design
Structural engineer Price & Myers
M&E consultant Silcock Dawson & Partners
Planning consultant JPPC
Project manager Bidwells
Cost management Gleeds
Theatre consultants Charcoal Blue
Archaeology Asset Heritage Consulting
Arboriculturalists Sylva Consultancy