At the Apex: Topping Out at Cohen Quad

On Saturday 10 October 2015, Exeter held a ‘topping out’ ceremony at Cohen Quadrangle, a milestone event during the development of the College’s new campus.

Topping out is a symbolic builders’ rite, traditionally held when the last beam (or its equivalent) is installed at the highest point of a building under construction.  For Exeter, this meant a ceremony to mark the completion of the exterior construction of the site, an opportunity to reflect on our progress so far, and a chance to look forward to the completion of Cohen Quadrangle.

A group of 45 hardy supporters climbed to the third floor of the building site on Walton Street where the ceremony took place. Speeches were given by Terry Spraggett (Business Unit Director of Public Sector at construction company Mace), Alison Brooks (Cohen Quad’s architect), Rector Sir Rick Trainor and lead benefactor to the project, Sir Ronald Cohen.

Alison Brooks spoke about the significance of the topping out ceremony, demonstrating how Exeter’s 2009 vision, and the architectural idea that sprang from it, “is now tangible as form and space”.

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Alison Brooks speaks about her architectural design and vision

The Rector then had the opportunity to thank all those involved in the project, from the architects and construction team to the college staff and the many benefactors whose toil and support have made Cohen Quad a reality.

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The Rector addresses the guests

Sir Ronald, in honour of whose parents the new quadrangle is named, spoke about his delight that Exeter would at last have enough space to accommodate another full year-group of undergraduates, as well as significant additional space for teaching and study. He praised Exeter for its bold decision to purchase the former Ruskin College site and thanked former Rector, Dame Frances Cairncross, for her vision and perseverance in getting the project off the ground. He finished by recognising the efforts of current Rector Sir Rick Trainor to take this project to completion and acknowledged the exciting challenge he will have leading the integration of Cohen Quadrangle with Exeter’s historic site on Turl Street.

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Sir Ronald Cohen speaks about the impact Cohen Quad will have on Exeter and on the University of Oxford

Dressed in full protection gear, the Rector and Sir Ronald then each tightened a large bolt at one of the highest points of the building to symbolise the completion of external construction.

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Sir Ronald tightens the final bolt at Cohen Quadrangle

Afterwards guests enjoyed a glass of Ambriel, an English sparkling wine produced in Sussex by Exeter alumnus Charles Outhwaite (1984, Modern History) and his wife Wendy, themselves both benefactors to Cohen Quadrangle.

Guests had the opportunity to walk around the third floor to get a sense of the scale of the project. They were even given a first glimpse of Cohen Quad’s pod bathrooms, already in place on the residential floors. All those present expressed their delight at the progress of the quad’s construction and their excitement to see it completed in less than a year’s time.

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Guests explore the site – here they are standing where two bedrooms will be. Note the two bathroom pods behind them
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Inside a fully-fitted bathroom pod

Also at the ceremony were current Exeter students, several of whom will enter the ballot to live at Cohen Quad during the 2016-17 academic year. Harry Williams (2014, Economics and Management), JCR Accommodation Officer, celebrated the fact that Exeter can now offer accommodation (and in such a central location) for three years to those undergraduates who want it.

He said, “It seems like the architects have made a real effort to make this development so much more than just a living space. I’m excited that it’s going to have that “Oxford quad” feel and that there’ll be spaces to socialise and study. Most of all, speaking as a student who has been following this development for the past few months, it was rewarding to see the renders that had been sent to us start to come to life.”

Sir Ronald was presented with a ceremonial engraved spanner to commemorate the occasion. A second spanner was presented to the Rector and will go on permanent display in the new building.

More photos of the event are available to view here.

Our next formal ceremony will be the official opening of Cohen Quadrangle!

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Ceremonial spanner commemorating the occasion

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