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Stirling’s Florey Building gets listing boost, but future still uncertain

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The future of James Stirling’s iconic Florey Building in Oxford is once again under the spotlight after the government upgraded its heritage protection

Ministers awarded the 1971 student residences Grade II*-listed status, upgrading it from Grade II and putting it among the top 6 per cent most guarded structures in the UK.

Three years ago London’s Avanti Architects was given permission to create 25 extra rooms inside the Florey Building as well as adding a two-storey annexe. 

But work has never started on this scheme and conservationists have called for a rethink from the building’s owner, Queen’s College, in light of the enhanced listing.

‘Hopefully the revised listing will encourage the college to change its strategy and develop a brief which will be more compatible with preservation of the original design,’ said the Twentieth Century Society in a statement.

Reports surfaced on social media last year that the college was set to place the Florey Building on the open market.

Although Queen’s College bursar Andrew Timms categorically and strenuously denied that a decision to sell had been made, he said at the time that there were no plans to start on the Avanti project.

Timms told the AJ this week: ‘With respect to Florey, the college is considering its position and is not going to make any further statement at this time.’

Avanti’s proposals came under fire in 2016 from local architect Alan Berman, founding partner of Berman Guedes Stretton, as well as Stirling’s friend and former colleague Thomas Muirhead, who branded the scheme a ’comprehensive betrayal, by alteration, of one of the internationally most important buildings of the 20th century’.

But the scheme –  described by Avanti as a conservation-led ‘rehabilitation’ – was backed by Historic England, the Oxford Design Review Panel and a range of Oxford amenity societies before being approved by the local authority.

Avanti insisted the additional rooms would be created ‘without altering the original building form’ and that ‘a discrete new-build annexe’ would provide ‘additional support facilities’.

Avanti director Amir Ramezani said in 2016: ‘The Florey Building has generated a large amount of public interest, and the college has been meticulous in safeguarding the future of the building in a balanced, sensitive and sustainable way.’

James Stirling received the Aalto Award in 1977, the RIBA Gold Medal in 1980 and the Pritzker Prize in 1981. The Stirling Prize was founded in 1996 in his memory.

The Twentieth Century Society said the Florey Building represented a ‘modern reworking of the traditional Oxford quadrangle’.

It added: ‘The twin towers marking the entrance were described by Stirling, in a written note, as an analogue of a medieval gate tower.

‘During the 1960s the generality of new university accommodation was still uniform “shoe boxes” with only one aspect. At Oxford, Stirling made a bold attempt to deviate from this norm by providing split-section rooms with dual aspect; the bedrooms of the Florey wrap round an open-sided courtyard, with an inward face of raked glazing.’

Avanti Architects has been contacted for comment.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • An iconic building, but not great student sets? 50mm gap between the glazing ang dividing walls! Archigram’s walking city meets the Leicester Engineering building. My first experience of the cutting edge when starting Part 1 at Oxpoly in October 1972, along with ABK’s Library in Maidenhead. Check it out?

    Oxbridge seems to be using second rate local architects for their new accommodation. Demolishing Murray and Maguire blocks, adding twee ranges alongside Lasdun’s typewriter at Christ’s College Cambridge. Loads of money, but not setting a good example after centuries of great architecture? Architects are as good now as they’ve ever been. Perhaps it’s the clients that are thinking of other things. Let Avanti show their mettle?

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