On 4th December Deputy Bursar Gez Wells conducted a tour of Cohen Quad for a small group of current students. Before entering the building site itself, the visitors were given an overview of the vision behind the new quadrangle by Hannah Constantine of Alison Brooks Architects.
During the tour, the students were shown every space at Cohen Quad, from the Fellows’ and Junior Dean’s sets high up on the fourth floor down to the archive and reading room in the basement, as well as all the bedrooms, teaching rooms, and study and relaxation spaces in between.
Laura Cheftel (2014, Philosophy & Modern Languages and JCR President-elect) said:
“I am so glad to have had the opportunity to see Cohen Quad. What struck me the most was the sheer size of it! It was really great to be able to walk around and understand how all the different spaces flow on from one another. I found it so impressive that the goal of effortless functionality justifies every detail. The design is an absolute feat, and yet I couldn’t imagine it any other way; it’s truly seamless.
“I love imagining the ways students will live there. Despite what might be said about its lack of history compared to other university buildings, the fact Cohen Quad is new makes it exciting and inspiring; through being such an innovative piece of architecture, it is a work of art that in itself will be intellectually stimulating. The concept of the Learning Commons is a brilliant one; study, comfort, coffee and company finally come together in such a beautiful space! I can see the amphitheatre steps as a casual lunch-spot, as well as a place for pieces of student drama in the evenings.”
Tobias Tan (2014, Theology DPhil) was particularly struck by the deceptive size of the building, saying:
“Although the original facade of the Ruskin building is relatively modest (in size), the building opens up into a vast complex. A substantial amount has been squeezed into a fairly small site (which seems appropriate and hardly surprising, given the scarcity of land in inner-city Oxford).”
He admitted that it was “difficult to judge the final aesthetic appeal from the mere concrete skeleton” but confirmed that “One could, however, gain an appreciation for how the spaces flowed into one another, which did seem quite pleasing. The abundance of natural light in most spaces will no doubt be highly appreciated.”
On a practical note, Tobias added that “The concrete separators between rooms may seem unremarkable, but I think it’s probably one of the most important features to limit noise in a semi-communal living environment. The noise associated with the doorways (how loudly the doors bang shut, and whether the doorways will be insulated against noise) will, I suspect, be crucial! I am looking forward to seeing [the building] finished in wood and stone.”
Jake Donald (2014, Modern Languages) was able to join the tour briefly before a tutorial back at Turl Street. He commented:
“It’s a beautiful construction, and everyone should be incredibly excited to live in it. The Quad itself looks set to be absolutely stunning, and I think that the facilities on the ground and basement floors – the archive room, the theatre and the cafe – will all be incredible spaces.”
The College intends to carry out several more hard-hat tours during Hilary and Trinity terms 2016, offering many more students, staff and Fellows the opportunity to explore Cohen Quad ahead of its completion in late summer 2016.