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Modern architecture in Oxford Colleges (part II)

March 14, 2015
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Hilda Besse Building, St Antony’s College, 1967-71, by Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis (HKPA)

Oxford has so many top quality modern buildings that last year’s Twentieth Century Society tour could not include them all. I spotted one of those not included during the lunch break – the Hilda Besse Building at St Antony’s College, by Howard, Killick, Partridge and Amis (HKPA), 1967-71. Here, I particularly admired the pre-cast concrete dining hall roof – known as a diagrid , meaning diagonal grids – and ‘hooded’ windows that echo the shape of the roof.

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Hilda Besse Building, St Antony’s College, 1967-71, by Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis (HKPA)

Back on the tour proper, I saw Leslie Martin and Colin St John Wilson’s fine, Alvar Aalto-influenced Law and English Library, 1961. There was no time to stop here, but its Scandinavian influences nicely set up the next destination.

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Law and English Library, 1964, by Leslie Martin and Colin St John Wilson

Arne Jacobsen’s sleek, austere St Catherine’s College, 1960, alone makes a visit to Oxford worthwhile, especially as the garden is interesting too. Designed on a rigorous structural grid system, the college is a true gesamtkunstwerk (complete work of art), with Jacobsen designing the furniture and cutlery (although unsurprisingly none of his original cutlery seems to be in the refectory today).

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St Catherine’s College, 1964, by Arne Jacobsen

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St Catherine’s College, 1964, by Arne Jacobsen

Next, a little-known work by those doyens of British modernism, Peter and Alison Smithson. The student residences at St Hilda’s College, known as the Garden Building, 1968, has the same splayed corners as their more famous Economist building. The timber across the windows of this (once) all ladies college act as a modesty screen (Peter Smithson called it a “kind of yashmak”)  that was influenced by English Tudor buildings and Tunisian window screens.

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Garden Building, St Hilda’s College, 1968, by Alison and Peter Smithson

Last but not least, I saw the exterior of James Stirling‘s Florey Building, Queen’s College, 1965. Interior access was refused, so these student residences were viewed from an unkempt area by the river, where the planned riverside footpath was never completed, meaning the building’s ‘front’ is now the ‘back’. Students have a riverside view through the sheer glass walls that were an influence on ABK’s work at Keble College.

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Florey Building, Queen’s College, 1971, by James Stirling

Along with his Cambridge History Faculty and Leicester Engineering Buildings, the Florey is part of Stirling’s so-called ‘Red Trilogy’ – three controversial works that will be discussed in another blog post.

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Florey Building, Queen’s College, 1971, by James Stirling

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