Walton Street façade of Cohen Quad revealed

Last Wednesday (14th September) was a big moment at Cohen Quad.

During the day the scaffolding was gradually removed from the front façade on Walton Street, revealing the stunning new roof and the beautifully cleaned stonework. The original character of the building has been retained, as planned, and it was generally agreed by all the onlookers that the new roof with its dormer windows added to the aesthetics of the building.

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The building positively glowed in the afternoon sunlight and the muted tones of the roof blended in well with the brickwork of the local housing.

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As can just be made out, the front door has been lowered to street level and recessed so that visitors walk under the opening arch before being admitted into the new quadrangle.

Work will begin shortly to tidy up the footpaths and, in the next few weeks, we’ll see the scaffolding come down along Worcester Place.

Stunning roof revealed

Over the last week, some of the scaffolding has been removed from the south cloister of Cohen Quad, revealing the upper levels of the building.

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The Rimex tiling is in place and the checker-board pattern is clearly established along the exterior walls. It really highlights the stunning dormer windows which protrude and will flood the internal corridors and rooms with natural light.

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We are also now able to see the beautiful curve of the roof-line as the tiles wrap around the roof and down the walls, creating a seamless cloak around the building.

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20160822 Rimex tiling from interior window

South cloister arches in place

The final task of the Cohen Quad crane, before it was removed from the site at the end of June, was to hoist the wooded (glulam) arches of the south cloister into place.

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Running west across the site, from the Porters’ Lodge to the Learning Commons, these magnificent arches form a covered colonnade across the quad. Their impressive height continues the sense of space that is achieved in the Porters’ Lodge and mirrored in the Learning Commons.

The cloister itself is glazed – at least two out of the three Oxford terms are decidedly wet! – and the sunlight just pours into this space which draws you further in.

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The design of the arches – and the perspective they create – forms a visually stunning route that leads to teaching rooms and out onto the Benson (south) Quad itself.

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Rimex tiles installed at Cohen Quad

A few weeks ago, it was possible to get up close to the first of the Rimex tiles that had been installed at Cohen Quad creating the distinctive checker-board roof.

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The Rimex-tiled roof

The tiles are of a wonderful muted bronze and champagne colour with an unusual texture. They catch, but don’t reflect, the sunlight. Looking at these close up, it’s not hard to imagine just how spectacular they will look when all the wrapping and scaffolding is removed.

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The Rimex tiles around a window

However, many people have asked where the design concept originated and the answer is simple: from within Jericho itself.

Jericho House

A Jericho house

Jericho was the physical heart of the arts and crafts movement in Oxford instigated by Morris, Burne-Jones, and Ruskin over 100 years ago. This is evident in the wonderful brick work that we see in the buildings around Cohen Quad and even at Keble College.

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Keble College

It’s also visible at Exeter in the Victorian tiling of the Chapel floor and its unique flèche (spire).

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The Exeter College Chapel floor

Exeter Chapel fleche

Exeter Chapel flèche 

And given that these tiles are being hand-folded on-site, we’re confident that great masters such as Morris, Burne-Jones, and Ruskin would have approved!

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Single Rimex tile held for scale

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

Behind the curtain

Since November 2015 Cohen Quad has been cloaked in weather-proof sheeting. But sadly what keeps the elements out also keeps prying eyes at bay, and the progress at Exeter’s third quadrangle is no longer immediately obvious to the passing observer.

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Cohen Quad under wraps in November 2015

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…and Cohen Quad in January 2016

But behind the façade of plastic sheeting progress is continuing apace. Currently the exterior windows are being installed – known as a curtain wall in the construction industry as they form a non-structural exterior to the building. And behind that curtain much work is taking place inside the development too.

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Some of the recently installed curtain glazing

Both of the passenger lifts are under construction, with Lift 1 already having its door in place.

Underfloor heating is being installed in the basement and the ground floor. The remaining floors will also benefit from underfloor heating in due course.

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Curtain glazing (top right), underfloor heating (bottom right) and one of the lifts under construction (top left)

Also in the basement mechanical and electrical work is being undertaken, including the installation of the building’s boilers and an air source heat pump which will transfer heat from outside to inside the building, providing an efficient and environmentally friendly way to heat Cohen Quad and its water.

So while from the outside it may be hard for the casual observer to notice much change, inside Cohen Quad great strides are being taken towards the development’s completion ready for its first students in Michaelmas 2016.

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An example of the amazing views that can be enjoyed from Cohen Quad

Exploring the Special Collections

Exeter’s Special Collections Centre at Cohen Quadrangle will be unlike anything the College has ever had before.

The College owns around 30,000 rare books and some 80 medieval manuscripts, as well as 700 years’ worth of archive material (referred to all together as the Special Collections). These are currently stored in the basement of the College library and underneath staircase 9 in cramped and dusty conditions, inaccessible for scholars who may wish to consult them.

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The Soncino Bible, part of Exeter’s Special Collections. Printed in 1488, it is the first printing of the entire vocalized Hebrew Bible text
One of Exeter's special collections
Detail from the 14th century Bohun Psalter, owned by Katherine of Aragon

In February 2015 the College announced that Cohen Quad’s basement area will be developed expressly to house its rare books and manuscripts in a Special Collections Centre. This in turn frees up an entire wing in the library on Turl Street, enabling the College to provide additional and much-needed study space for students.

The large archive storage area at Cohen Quad will have brand new rolling stacks for easy access.  A smaller side room will act as a high-security storage area for the College’s most precious collections, including the 14th century Bohun Psalter (owned by Katherine of Aragon herself), the Soncino Bible (see image above) and a manuscript copy of Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars with marginal notes by Petrarch himself.

The rooms will have inbuilt temperature and humidity regulators to ensure optimum conditions for all these precious pages. They will be protected from fire and flooding with thick walls and metal doors, giving an extra four hours’ protection. They will also be fitted with a gas suppression system which forces oxygen out of the atmosphere, thus extinguishing fire without the need for sprinklers.

The rooms will also be highly secure, with alarmed entrances and CCTV footage throughout.

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The archive storage area under construction, with the floor newly laid for rolling stacks
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The high-security area for Exeter’s most precious books and manuscripts

This is the first time that Exeter’s rare books and archive materials will be kept in one place and under climate-controlled conditions. Not only this, but an adjacent reading room will open up access to the collections in an unprecedented way.

The reading room will boast a large table to be shared by anyone wishing to study these materials. The walls will be panelled in glulam and cherry veneer, echoing the materials used across the rest of the site. It will be cleverly and sensitively lit, mostly thanks to a large ceiling light that draws in natural light from the North Quadrangle.

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The reading room as it looks now…
Architect's rendering of the reading room at Cohen Quad
… and a render of the finished room

Joanna Bowring, the College Librarian, said:

Librarian Joanna Bowring

“The new Special Collections Centre at Cohen Quad will be nothing short of transformational for Exeter’s archives, manuscripts and rare printed books. For the first time, all of these historic collections can be kept together, in the correct environmental conditions. Exeter has extraordinary special collections and it’s so exciting that we can make them accessible and bring Exeter’s history to life in this way.”

To read more about Exeter’s special collections, please click here.

Exeter is looking forward to welcoming students, Fellows and visiting academics to the Special Collections Centre at Cohen Quadrangle, and is grateful to all the supporters who have made this project possible.

All in all, this is a basement with a difference!