Transformed Identity: Addition to St Antony’s College in Oxford
Text: Florian Maier
The five-storey Gateway Buildings are a significant addition to St Antony’s estate, defining a new presence for the college on one of the main routes serving the city centre. The project comprises a new main entrance, Porters’ Lodge, 54 en-suite study bedrooms, offices for College staff and meeting/work space within glazed rooftop pavilions.
Architects: Bennetts Associates
Location: 62 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6JF, UK
St Antony’s is one of Oxford University’s newer Colleges but the estate previously suffered a lack of presence and a disparate grouping of buildings at odds with its highly acclaimed academic reputation. Bennetts Associates’ design has addressed these issues in a symbolic manner that roots St Antony’s firmly in the Oxford College tradition. The new buildings announce the location of the college prominently on the Woodstock Road, frame an engaging main entrance sequence and enclose the central quadrangle for the very first time. In combination with a strong contemporary expression, the physical identity of St Antony’s has been transformed and now sits confidently amongst its peers.
Bennetts Associates’ design responds to its context both within the St Antony’s estate and the North Oxford Conservation Area. The latter is characterised by a language of wide streets lined with mature trees and large villas, where the gaps between offer enticing glimpses to the gardens beyond. Breaking the brief and the massing of the gateway buildings into two is in direct response to this character and allows the creation of the engaging entry sequence.
The two buildings are carefully positioned in relation to the neighbouring Grade II listed buildings. The 1960s Hilda Besse building is enclosed and revealed in a way that evokes the wider master plan it was originally intended to be part of. The positioning of the southerly block of the gateway buildings allows the ornate gable of main building – a former convent – to remain visible and respects the setting of the fine mature chestnut trees on Woodstock Road.
The roofline consciously echoes the animation of main building and large Victorian houses in the area, whilst the palette of cotswold stone, bronze and walnut is intended to be both timeless and contemporary. The listed perimeter wall has been reconfigured to create a new entrance forecourt.
Internally, the design approach again combines modernity with tradition. The upper floors of each of the two blocks accommodate the graduate rooms, arranged in nine clusters or ‘houses’ of six rooms around a kitchen and staircase, following the long-established ‘Oxbridge’ model. The staircases which link the clusters are spirals of finely crafted walnut, with high quality finishes and fixtures continued throughout the kitchens and en-suite rooms.
The gateway buildings are highly sustainable and include a range of features from passive design principles such as sensible glazing ratios, natural ventilation and planted roofs to renewables systems such as ground source heat pumps fed from pipework under the lawned quadrangle and solar arrays for hot water production – the main energy demand in student residences.
The warden of St Antony’s Professor Margaret MacMillan, said: “This is a hugely important project for the college both in terms of the increased accommodation, and related income stream it brings us, but also in giving us a new identity that enhances the confidence and pride amongst fellows, staff, and students. We are delighted with the design and the quality of the finished product and are sure that the gateway buildings will greatly aid us in what is becoming an increasingly competitive global market for post-graduate education.”
Bennetts Associates director Julian Lipscombe added: “It is enormously satisfying to add our first completed project to the rich architectural showcase of this remarkable city. The placing of the buildings and the spaces they define have been carefully crafted to transform the experience of visiting and inhabiting the college. We feel the ensemble is both confidently contemporary and quintessentially ‘Oxford’ in its character.”