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Maguire and Murray building at Oxford’s Trinity College to be demolished


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.

Project data

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 


Readers' comments (8)

  • While Adam Architecture are perfectly entitled to criticize the work of others they should realize that to call it 'incongruous' is only justified if you believe, like Prince Charles & co. and possibly the Scruton set, that the answer to good taste lies in pastiche. Not even quality pastiche, in this case - look at the images, particularly 5.11.
    The Cumberbatch building,, while very different from its neighbors, is in scale and surely not life-expired, so does Trinity have such a generous endowment that it can afford to destroy a decent and useful building of strong character that's part of the history of the development of the college?

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  • @ Robert Wakeham - excellent point. Whether a proponent of well considered neo-classicism or quality contemporary architecture, surely one would have to concede that the building described in image 5 represents neither.

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  • Trevor Harris

    What a crass and banal addition is envisaged for Trinity! I had fondly imagined that England‘s oldest and most respected universities have always been committed to creating inspiring places for study, research and reflection. What has happened to this country that the high-powered and presumably civilised governing body of this college finds a need to resort to some kind of "romantic" and poorly designed classical escapism in lieu of a finely-crafted and distinct architectural addition of our times? Who has been advising you on your options? At the very least a rigorously organised national or even international architectural competition should have been held for this key location. Nothing has been built yet so it‘s not too late to reconsider.

    Kind regards,

    Trevor Harris
    professor, architect SAFA (Finnish Association of Architects)
    Helsinki, Finland

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  • It looks very in-keeping and should be a pleasant and refreshing antidote to the random, parametric form-finding that threatens to litter our world.

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  • Frances Maria

    What a waste of money and a waste of a perfectly good building. The existing building has some architectural merit and is representative of its era.

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  • I bet it's freezing in the winter, boiling in the summer and costs a fortune to maintain. A typical 60s heap of concrete rubbish.

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  • The original is a thoughtful, pawky little building, albeit one that seems to have been let down by value-engineering on materials. If it's going to be replaced, it should at least be with something of equal quality and distinctiveness. What's proposed here is just *embarrassing*.

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  • Industry Professional

    Was there quite recently and it is in a terrible state of repair and is quite frankly a bit of an eyesore. Even if it were fully repaired and refreshed it would still look incongruous ( that really is the right word if you go look at it) in its setting. Better however that it were replaced by a thoughtful contemporary replacement perhaps that drew from the colleges scientific tradition and delivered first rate sustainability.

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