From Civil War Defences to 21st Century Roofing: 12 months at Cohen Quadrangle

This article was written by the Director of Development, Katrina Hancock, and appears in printed form in the 2015 edition of Exon magazine.

Exon was sent out last week to alumni and Friends of the College. An electronic version can be viewed here.


The last 12 months have been a whirlwind of activity, discovery, and celebration on the site of Exeter’s third quadrangle at Walton Street.

In November 2014 the College was thrilled to announce that the new quadrangle would be called “Cohen Quad” in recognition of the generosity of Sir Ronald Cohen (1964, PPE), who through his family’s foundation had pledged a further gift towards the quadrangle, bringing his total gift to £9m ($14m). The building will be named in honour of his parents, Michael and Sonia Cohen, who believed wholeheartedly that “education is the one thing that cannot be taken from you”. His gift, together with those of many other Exonians, has now brought the total of philanthropic funds raised for the new quadrangle to £16.5m, just £1.5m below the £18m target (which represents 50% of the original budget for the quadrangle including purchase, construction, fit out, and fees). This is a remarkable achievement and shows again what can be achieved when the College and alumni partner together to support scholarship and future generations of Exeter students.

Alumnus and benefactor Sir Ronald Cohen with architect Alison Brooks as demolition began, April 2014

In Hilary Term 2015, the College historians were delighted to learn that evidence of the Civil War defences designed by the Dutch military engineer Bernard De Gomme had been found running through the site. These defences, which are shown on Loggan’s 1675 map of Oxford, were built prior to the siege of the city in 1644. They almost certainly correspond with an east-west aligned ditch discovered at Cohen Quad, although the artefacts recovered from the ditch were exclusively medieval. Its location appears to correspond with the junction between the western end of the inner line of defences and the more substantial and symmetrical outer defensive circuit. The historic maps show that by the post-medieval period (possibly earlier) the area was drained by a network of channels in the immediate vicinity of the site, and there is quite compelling evidence that the defences depicted by de Gomme in this location are reusing existing drainage channels on the edge of the flood plain.

Also in Hilary, the College celebrated when planning permission for Cohen Quad’s stunning champagne and bronze roof was approved by the City Council. This was a pivotal moment for Exeter: we had already received approval for the shape of the roof and a metallic tiling, but it had taken over three years to reach an agreement to use the Rimex stainless steel tiles in beautiful contrasting colours, which our architect, Alison Brooks, had originally proposed. The opposition concerned glare from reflected sunlight, but the tiles will be anodised to achieve a stable and consistent colour, textured, and then bead-blasted to further reduce any shine.

Aerial Image
The roof at Cohen Quadrangle

Over Easter 2015 the basement was completed, with over 15,000 tons of earth removed (that’s around 800 lorry-loads) and the concrete slab poured. Since then, the ground and first floors have been poured and we expect to put the weatherproof roof on during the Long Vacation. Already you can stand in the special collections’ storage and reading rooms, you can see where the café will be, and you can see the north and south quadrangles. The bedrooms are marked out and you begin to get a sense of the views that students and Fellows will have over the surrounding area, with Worcester to the south and the Radcliffe Observatory and new Blavatnik School of Government to the north.

So what next? We still expect to take possession in late July 2016 and before then the interior will need to be fitted out and the exterior tiling and stone cladding completed. The bathroom pods will be delivered over the summer and the façade retention will be removed by September. Come and visit!

The Learning Commons looking towards the front of the building
The central Learning Commons at Cohen Quadrangle

Katrina Hancock, July 2015

One thought on “From Civil War Defences to 21st Century Roofing: 12 months at Cohen Quadrangle

  1. I absolutely love how the roofing was done on this building. I’ve been needing to do some repairs on my roof, but now I think I may just redo the whole thing! Hopefully, I can find a residential roofing company that can do something similar to what was done for this building.


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