The Walton Street Project: a Recap

This is the news statement from November 2011 which announced Alison Brooks Architects (ABA) as the chosen firm for the transformation of Exeter’s Cohen Quad on Walton Street.

Exeter College is delighted to announce that Alison Brooks Architects (ABA) has won the contest to design the College’s new premises on Walton Street, Oxford, following a competitive selection process involving five architectural practices from the UK and US.

ABA is recognised as a dynamic and forward-thinking practice and is the first to have won the UK’s three most prestigious awards for architecture: the Stirling Prize, the Manser Medal and the Stephen Lawrence Prize. Among its award-winning projects are the Accordia development in Cambridge, the Quarterhouse Performing Arts Centre in Folkestone and Wrap House, London. Exeter College is excited to be collaborating with such a creative design team. This is an opportunity to create a strong and lasting contribution to Oxford’s built environment.

The site, on the corner of Walton Street and Worcester Place, will form Exeter College’s third quadrangle in the heart of Oxford – less than 10 minutes’ walk from the College’s Turl Street site. The new site will combine student accommodation with teaching rooms, social spaces and study facilities.

The former Ruskin College site, purchased by Exeter. The Edwardian facade will be retained and incorporated into ABA's design for the new building
The former Ruskin College site, purchased by Exeter. The Edwardian facade will be retained and incorporated into ABA’s design for the new building

ABA shares the College’s vision of 21st century collegiate life and is recognised for having a passion for quality and craftsmanship, a delight in place making and a unique architectural approach.

The quadrangle is intended to provide accommodation for up to 100 students, many of whom are currently renting in the private market. This addition to the College’s campus will alleviate some of the strain on the local rental market and also reduce the financial burden on students who will benefit from the College’s 30-week lets at affordable prices.

The Rector of Exeter College, Frances Cairncross, said: “As we move towards celebrating Exeter College’s 700th anniversary in 2014, so too can we look forward to creating a new and exciting space on Walton Street. This quadrangle will provide outstanding living, teaching and study facilities in the heart of Oxford, continuing the ancient college tradition of living and studying around peaceful communal outdoor spaces. Each of our new rooms will be a mini-bursary for a student, cutting the costs of living in central Oxford and helping Exeter College to continue to attract the brightest and most talented students.”

The competition was arranged by Malcolm Reading Consultants (MRC), a specialist architectural consultancy. The College asked for evidence of genuine fresh thinking from competitors, not just the models of the recent past. An initial long list of 26 international firms was reduced to five through a process of building visits, speaking to past clients, office visits and advice from specialists in the field and the College’s alumni.

MRC carried out a thorough study and site analysis to establish a brief, mindful of the heritage of the site, the quality of urban setting and the importance of promoting world-class design in Oxford.

A former student of Exeter College and local resident, Hugh Palmer, said “I’m very glad that future students of my old college will have the chance to enjoy the extra space and improved facilities made possible by this ambitious project. The site is a significant one, right at the entrance to Jericho, and there is an opportunity not only to meet the practical needs of the College, but also to create a beautiful new building to enhance this fascinating part of Oxford.”

Alison Brooks, Director of Alison Brooks Architects, said “We are delighted to have this opportunity to work in the heart of Oxford with Exeter College and to contribute to the evolution of its architecture. The Quad’s combination of residential, academic, social and cultural spaces within a scholarly and urban context is every architect’s ‘ideal brief’. ABA very much look forward to working with Exeter College to deliver a 21st century quad at Walton Street to complement the extraordinary quality of their Turl Street campus.”

The new site is being financed by a fundraising campaign in the period leading up to, during and immediately after Exeter College’s 700th anniversary in 2014.

The College, advised by MRC and others, will now work with the ABA team to develop the initial design, emphasising the need to respect the qualities of the site and surroundings.

http://www.alisonbrooksarchitects.com/

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