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Visit to Oxford


Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon.
Once again our Art and Design Group has lived up to its founding aim of introducing members to examples of modern architecture, design and craftsmanship:  this Chapel was brilliantly conceived and built to the highest  standards.
There were two clients who commissioned the Chapel:  Ripon College, which trains up to 250 students for the clergy in the Church of England;  and, the Sisters of St John Baptist and the Good Shepherd, an Order of Nuns, who are based at the college and for whom the chapel must be a very precious place of worship. The commission was awarded to Niall McLaughlin Architects in 2009, the building was completed eighteen months later and in 2013 the Chapel was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.

The Site
The College sits on a hill top with views across Oxfordshire towards  Garsington. The college buildings, designed by G.E.Street some 160 years ago, were built for an Anglican seminary:  Niall's design for the Chapel complements the locally quarried stone of the Victorian buildings and, for me, succeeds in reflecting the tranquility and rustling peacefulness of the trees at the centre of the college.

External design
The Chapel is elliptical in shape, rising to a height of 9.8m placing the clerestory windows at the height of the ancient beech tree and surrounding trees.   
The base of the Chapel walls are of hand-cut ashlar blocks, similar in colour to the old College buildings, and surmounted by quite dramatic dog-toothed, curving Clipsham stonework.
Each stone is handcut, smooth on one face and rough-cut on the other to give what was described as a basket-weave effect.  The roof is supported by clerestory windows, encircling the high interior.

Internal Design.
As we wandered around the Chapel you could sense the awe of ADG members at the pervading light, the polished smooth flooring, the gently curving ash benches and the layout of the Chapel with an ambulatory.
You could see ADG members in a sort of collective feel of the white stained glulam columns, rising like trees and branches to support the latticework of the roof of the nave.
 I noticed the personal touch in the small horseshoe-shaped prayer room for the Sisters, with space beneath the seats for the boxes, each with a name of one of the Sisters.  
Good craftsmanship was on display everywhere.


The Harriet Monsell House.
This striking residential building was designed (Sadler Brown Architecture & Bowker Sadler Architecture) to provide new convent accommodation for the Sisters, as well as student and teaching accommodation for the College. The building struck me as quite dramatic, with its four floors, very steeply pitched roofs and dramatic high vertical chimneys and gables. Just as with the Chapel, the building matched very well the Victorian college buildings.

The College provided a very welcoming coffee on arrival and then lunch in the communal dining room, under the watchful gaze of Samuel Wilberforce.  We had the added pleasure of being able to talk to students and staff.

Keith Turner


Campion Hall designed by Lutyens.


Pembroke College Extension.
In contrast to Bishop Edward King Chapel which is a relatively small building on a large open site, our second visit of the day was to the new extension to Pembroke College in the heart of Oxford, which is a lot of building shoehorned onto a very tight site indeed.
The extension was conceived as part of a general expansion of Oxford colleges to improve their facilities and to provide more living accommodation for students. Pembroke's solution was to acquire land adjacent to the college for an ambitious transformation comprising two new quads; five new buildings containing ninety-six student rooms, a multi-purpose auditorium, four state-of-the-art meeting rooms, a café and an art gallery to house the college's interesting 20th century collection; one refurbished listed building containing six one bedroom flats; together with underground facilities and a new footbridge spanning Brewer Street and Oxford's medieval town wall to link the old and new.
The college points out that many thought such a complex expansion onto such a constrained site would have been impossible but it has been realised by the painstaking execution of an innovative and stunning design led by architects Berman, Guedes, Stretton, a firm with a good reputation for their previous work in Oxford.
The extension site was occupied by a mix of industrial and commercial premises and included some  1970s student rooms already in college ownership and was complicated by a significant change of level. Negotiations to secure the land were challenging not least because agreement was needed with Campion Hall, the Jesuit training college housed in elegant Lutyens designed premises adjoining the extension site.  The result of the successful negotiation is that at the heart of the new scheme lies a quad shared with Campion Hall as well as the contiguous new Rokos Quad.
Visiting the new extension is a pleasurable experience. From Pembroke's 500 year old Chapel Quad, enclosed by a harmonious mix of Cotswold stone buildings, you cross the delicate, new, glass-sided bridge between the gable ends of a restored listed building and the plate glass window of the double aspect Harold Lee meeting room. This leads onto the first floor Isaacson Terrace overlooking the new quads. Broad steps lead down to the quads which provide a mix of the utilitarian (bicycle storage and a café seating area) and the landscaped. The planting adds a feeling of maturity already. The size and shape of the new buildings and the choice of honey coloured stone and buff bricks are a good match for Campion Hall and the older Pembroke buildings and enclose the space in a manner that feels authentically like on Oxford quad.
Inside the new buildings the student rooms are a good size (15 square metres) and provide en suite facilities, essential for today's students.  The various meeting rooms, foyer, café and circulation areas are all very light and airy and offer excellent views of the surrounding old and new buildings.

The Pembroke College extension certainly appears a successful response to the need for ancient universities to offer modern facilities. Whether it is good value for money and how long it will last looking good I will leave to better qualified people to judge. Interestingly, it felt in many ways similar to the what was achieved in response to a similar need 50 years ago by Trevor Dannatt when he designed College Hall for the University of Leicester, as seen last year by the ADG in its gloriously restored College Court state.

Richard Thumpston

Another View Oxford

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