Cohen Quad: the vision

During a weekend of events to mark the formal opening of Cohen Quad, the Principal Architect Alison Brooks, Project Architect Hannah Constantine, and Deputy Bursar Gez Wells were on hand to talk about the design and creation of Cohen Quad.

Guests were invited to watch the video below and then ask questions and discuss the response of students to living on site. Click on the video below to learn all about the vision behind Cohen Quad and how it was realised.

Cohen Quad – The Architects’ Vision from Exeter College, Oxford on Vimeo.

Exeter College formally opens Cohen Quad

On the weekend of Saturday 18th March and Sunday 19th March 2017, Exeter College formally opened Cohen Quad, its new premises on Walton Street. Named for the parents of Exeter College alumnus Sir Ronald Cohen, this new quadrangle, less than 10 minutes’ walk from the College’s historic site on Turl Street, transforms the College and allows it to provide 90 additional study-bedrooms for students, teaching and performance space, a reading room and climate-controlled storage for the College’s special collections, and a hub for social learning.

Rector Professor Sir Rick Trainor said: “The opening of Cohen Quad marks a major step forward for Exeter College as it moves into its eighth century. One of Oxford’s major new buildings of the 21st century, Cohen Quad provides, in a beautiful environment designed by architect Alison Brooks, a wide range of services for all members of the Exeter College community, including students, fellows, staff and alumni. Cohen Quad, to which more than 4,500 alumni and friends have contributed through a financial gift, indicates the vibrancy of Exeter College and is a springboard for its ambitious plans for the future.”

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Professor Sir Rick Trainor addresses guests

Under the leadership of former Rector Dame Frances Cairncross, Exeter College set out in 2007 a strategy to provide world class education within a collegiate environment: that is, a place where students and academics live and work alongside each other, interacting with each other both inside and outside the classroom, within inspiring buildings and spaces. The addition of Cohen Quad is the biggest single physical expansion of the College since its earliest years when it moved to its Turl Street site in 1315. It maintains a 700-year tradition of students and fellows across academic disciplines living and studying alongside each other and benefitting from each other’s knowledge and experience.

Cohen Quad provides study-bedrooms in the centre of Oxford and enables the College to guarantee up to three years’ accommodation for its undergraduate students.  This will have a significant impact on encouraging students to apply to Exeter College and the University of Oxford. It will help to alleviate pressure on Oxford’s private housing market and will provide students with pristine and affordable accommodation designed around the needs of modern students, including 30-week rather than 52-week lets. Cohen Quad therefore makes an Oxford education both more affordable and more enjoyable.

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An example of an en-suite study-bedroom

In addition to the study-bedrooms for students, Cohen Quad also has three “family kitchens” in which students can socialise and prepare and eat meals together, an auditorium for concerts, lectures and dramatic performances, a social and learning hub known as the Learning Commons, a café, teaching and seminar rooms, fellows’ teaching sets, a reading room and climate-controlled storage space for the College’s archives and special collections, a student common room, and two external quadrangles. All Exeter students, fellows and staff are welcome to use the space and students from other colleges who take tutorials with Exeter fellows will also be taught on site.

In 2011, Exeter College selected Alison Brooks Architects (ABA) to design the new site following an extensive design competition. The first female architect and principal director of an architectural practice to work for an Oxford college, Alison Brooks’ design was a reinterpretation of the traditional collegiate quadrangle, with a hub for social learning at its heart. Drawing on the design influences within the local neighbourhood of Jericho, the history of both Exeter College and Ruskin College (the latter, now concentrated in Headington, previously occupied the site of Cohen Quad), and the needs of 21st century scholars, ABA have delivered a building that is stunning, uplifting, and inspiring.

Alison Brooks said: “Cohen Quad has exceeded our expectations. Even though we model in 3D, there are some things that have really flowered through being built and I think the proportions of the space are wonderful and feel better and more lofty than even we imagined.”

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Alison Brooks addresses guests

As part of the celebrations the Rector paid tribute to the donors who together gave £18m towards the creation of Cohen Quad and a total of £46m to Exeter College in the period running up to and immediately following the 700th anniversary of the College’s foundation, which it marked in 2014. A large board hangs at Cohen Quad, listing the many people who gave to Exeter College between 2006 and 2016 and who helped make Cohen Quad possible.

The lead donor to the new quadrangle is Sir Ronald Cohen (1964, PPE) and it is in memory of his parents that Cohen Quad is named. The dedication as you walk into the quadrangle reads “In honour of Michael and Sonia Cohen, who knew that education was the one thing that could not be taken away from you”.

Sir Ronald said: “It is at Exeter College that I really learned to think. Education is the one possession that cannot be taken away and I am lucky that I can help future generations of Exeter College students to live in a collegiate environment where their minds are best nurtured and inspired.  The stunning design by Alison Brooks will greatly enhance our College’s life.

“It is a building where I think your soul soars, and at the same time it has a sense of community. When you walk into the Learning Commons you can’t help but smile. I think this building is proof that architecture can affect the way you feel, and hence the way you think.”

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Sir Ronald Cohen and his wife Sharon at the formal opening of Cohen Quad

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The dedication to Sir Ronald’s parents in the entrance hall of Cohen Quad

Students moved into Cohen Quad on Sunday 8th January ahead of the start of Hilary Term. They are delighted with the building; many regularly bring friends and family members around to see the new facilities for themselves. Isabella Neil is in her final year of an English degree at Exeter College. She said: “Anyone can see that Cohen Quad is a beautiful addition to Exeter College, but unless you get the chance to live here, it is less obvious how great an impact the new building will have on students’ everyday lives. The extra living space that Cohen Quad offers means an end to Exeter students desperately scrambling to find private housing that is ‘adequate’. We now have the option to avoid 52-week rents, hefty deposits and administration fees, and potentially difficult landlords.

“Arriving in Cohen Quad, it became immediately clear that all the photos and computer-generated renderings don’t do the building justice and, as a finalist, I can’t imagine a better place to live than Cohen Quad. Having a place to live that also has everything we need – spaces to work, eat, socialise, cook, and relax – less than 10 minutes away from the College’s Turl Street site is amazing, and makes a huge difference in what is a pretty stressful year. Everything about Cohen Quad’s design feels well thought through, and the building feels tailor-made to support Exeter’s students and staff. We are just settling in at the moment, but it is clear to see that Cohen is going to be a huge part of college life at Exeter.”

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The donor board at Cohen Quad

In addition to Exeter College students, five Exeter College fellows have also moved into their teaching rooms at Cohen Quad and a Junior Dean, responsible for discipline and welfare, has also moved into the Quad. The fellows in residence teach classics, Spanish, English, history, and chemistry.

Professor Christina de Bellaigue, Fellow in Modern History, moved into her teaching rooms at Cohen Quad in January. She said: “As one of the Fellows who has just moved into Cohen Quad, I want to say thank you to everyone who made it possible. It’s an inspiring building to work and teach in and the views are fantastic. The building is going to bring such a new lease of life to the College. I love walking around and seeing the students at work in the Learning Commons or chatting over coffee, and I can’t wait to use the Special Collections housed on site to teach some of them.”

The celebration events over 18th and 19th March enabled donors who gave to Exeter College between 2006 and 2016 to visit Cohen Quad and experience this remarkable building for themselves. They had the opportunity to hear from the architect Alison Brooks and to take a tour of the Quad, as well as talk to current students about what it’s like to live and study in Cohen Quad.

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Guests attend a lecture on James Joyce by Fellow in English Jeri Johnson

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Exeter College Choir sings at the formal opening

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Guests could explore Cohen Quad or take a tour with current students

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Many guests attended a closing ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre

William Morris carpet unveiled at Cohen Quad

Just outside Cohen Quad’s FitzHugh Auditorium is a wonderful, light foyer where people gather before going into a lecture or concert or before attending a seminar in the adjacent Maddicott Room. From the earliest design concepts for this area, the wall facing the Maddicott Room was designed and built to fit the College’s stunning carpet created by its renowned former student, the designer and artist William Morris.

Originally believed to be from the Kelmscott Manor estate – home to William Morris from 1871 until his death in 1896 – the carpet was, until recently, laid on the floor of the Rector’s Lodgings. When thinking about how we might tie the history and heritage of the College, which is so evident at Turl Street, into Cohen Quad, the architects proposed that the carpet be hung on public display.

Earlier this month this vision was realised when the College maintenance team climbed a scaffold, affixed the carpet to the wall and unrolled it, with the lower portions safely stored behind protective glazing.

It is a stunning addition to the building and gives the space outside the FitzHugh Auditorium character and colour, further enhancing this wonderful building.

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Exeter family celebrates the opening of Cohen Quad

On the afternoon of Saturday 14 January the Exeter College family celebrated Cohen Quad opening for students, as well as officially opening the Student Common Room.

Although the formal Cohen Quad opening events will not be until mid-March, this was a wonderful occasion to mark informally the moment when all the resident students were finally living and studying in Cohen Quad.

The Rector expressed his thanks to the architect, Alison Brooks, and the project architect, Hannah Constantine, for creating such a wonderful space for the College. He also paid tribute to the tireless work of Gez Wells, Deputy Bursar, while also noting his birthday that day with a birthday cake and leading a chorus of “Happy Birthday”. He finished by thanking the students for their patience during the delays and encouraging them to make the most of their new building.

The outgoing JCR President Harry Williams, the new JCR President Dan Smith, and the current MCR President Sandra Ionescu said a few words in response to the Rector and then walked over to the Student Common Room to cut the ceremonial ribbon.

The Cohen Quad Student Common Room, which is adjacent to the Dakota Café and below the Learning Commons, is a space for all students and has been furnished with comfy chairs, a TV, and board games. Over the coming weeks the students will make it more their own space and it will become a hub for undergraduate, graduate, and Williams students alike.

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The Rector, Harry Williams, Dan Smith and Sandra Ionescu each spoke at the event

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The Student Common Room is formally opened

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The event was well attended by students, staff, fellows and alumni

FitzHugh Auditorium revealed

This roof top picture, kindly taken by local resident Fran Monks earlier today, reveals Cohen Quad’s auditorium.

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The Auditorium (front right of picture) with its distinctive curved roof

Now completely clear of scaffolding, the stone work and Rimex tiling are visible giving a further sense of the beautiful scope and nature of Alison Brooks’ design for Cohen Quad.

Internally, the stone cladding is being completed while ensuring that the wishbone glulam beams remain visible as a stunning feature of the space.

The auditorium, to be known as the FitzHugh Auditorium, will be able to seat 110 people for a lecture or concert and 100 people for a banquet. We’re looking forward to being able to host symposiums, concerts, student performances, gala dinners, and even film nights here and are sure that the students will come up with even more ideas (perhaps the next Burns Night Ceilidh)!

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The internal beams of the FitzHugh Auditorium

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Architect render of the finished Auditorium

Progress report: Cohen Quad is watertight and works have begun internally

We are pleased to report that work at Cohen Quad is progressing well and the main site activities are now focused on fitting out the building’s contents.

One of the last windows to be fitted – an impressive dormer window on the fourth floor with exceptional views over Jericho – was installed in March and the building is now fundamentally watertight. This has allowed the internal fit-out to begin, including the interior joinery and plaster boarding.

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The dormer window with its exceptional views over Jericho

The wiring has been completed in the basement and on the ground floor and next week work will begin on the interior stonework on these floors. Meanwhile the electricians have moved to the first floor as they work their way up the building.

On the outside the first Rimex metal roof tiles have been fitted to the building’s exterior. These will give Cohen Quad its distinctive metallic roof and will also cover the exterior of some walls. Panel by panel the exterior of Cohen Quad will take shape and come the end of June the large crane that has dominated the site for many months will be removed, making it possible to see clearly how the finished building will look.

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Fitting the Rimex metal roof tiles

The Learning Commons at Cohen Quad

The Learning Commons will be at the heart of Cohen Quad – a place where, at a glance, you can see who’s there already and who’s arriving (a bit like the Front Quad really!). It’s on several different levels, with the café in the basement and a teaching room elevated above the mezzanine on the Worcester Place wall. The space will be used by undergraduate and graduate students, as well as Fellows, staff, and visitors, who want to use its flexible layout while working alone or in groups. With the café on hand with good coffee, and wifi to support multiple personal devices, this will be the academic hub of Cohen Quad.

The images show the architect’s rendering (bottom) and construction to date (top). The north cloister is already in place and the glazing to the North Quadrangle gives an indication of just how much natural light will flood this area. It still needs a bit of work, but the sense of fluid space is already clear. It won’t be long before the fixtures and fittings are in place.

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Part of the Learning Commons as it stands today – still a work in progress

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Architect’s render of how the Learning Commons will look once it is complete, from a similar position to the top photo