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

Cohen Quad welcomes film director for inaugural FitzHugh Auditorium lecture

As the formal opening of Cohen Quad draws closer, the whole College community is eagerly taking advantage of the wonderful facilities which the new site offers. This week, we were delighted to host our first lecture in the FitzHugh Auditorium – one of the Rector’s Seminars that was offered in partnership with the Fulbright Scholarship programme (Rector Trainor was formerly a Fulbright Commissioner for several years).

The speaker on Tuesday evening was the award-winning film director Susanna White, known for acclaimed TV series such as Jane EyreParade’s End, and Bleak House, as well as feature films such as Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang and an adaptation of John Le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor. She spoke about the paucity of female film directors under the title “A Screen of One’s Own”.

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As you can see from the image above, the lecture was well attended. Our guests praised both the splendour of the space and the acoustics. After the event, Susanna White wrote a warm letter of appreciation to the Rector expressing her own delight speaking in such a stunning environment.

We look forward to many more events hosted in the FitzHugh Auditorium, from lectures and seminars to concerts and dramatic performances, including those organised by our own students.

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

Exeter College takes possession of Cohen Quad

It is with great pleasure that we announce that the College took possession of Cohen Quad on Friday 23rd December after a tremendous final push by all involved in getting the building ready. All those expecting to live and work at Cohen Quad this year will be able to do so from Sunday 8th January, including the students who will be resident there for the rest of the academic year. It has been a long journey and everyone has been incredibly supportive and patient as we have worked round the clock to see the building completed as quickly as possible.

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A completed study-bedroom

The 90 student study-bedrooms are now fully furnished as are the three family kitchens and most of the teaching rooms. We are in the process of putting the final touches to the Learning Commons, Student Common Room and Front Desk and, over the course of Hilary Term, will complete the auditorium and café, expecting to be able to serve food in the café from Monday of 1st Week. At just a 9-minute walk across town, we hope that all those based at the Turl Street site will take time to visit during Hilary Term: Cohen Quad is for all College members, whether they’re resident or not, and all students – graduates, undergraduates, and Williams – are welcome to come and go as they please. Cohen Quad really is our third quad and we are excited about the wonderful spaces and facilities it offers.

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A family kitchen

We know that many of our alumni and neighbours will be keen to visit. We will be in touch with details of opportunities to drop in: right now we’re focussed on getting the building up and running and making preparations for the formal opening on 18th and 19th March 2017 to which all donors will be invited.

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The entrance of Cohen Quad with colonade

It really is a superb building and, with scaffolding and protective covers removed, the light and the quality of the building materials provide a stunning environment for living and working. As the Sunday Times said this week, this is a building to watch in 2017!

 

Student bedrooms on first floor completely finished

Last week, the College team signed off on the first floor student bedrooms as all the construction and snagging was completed!

During the course of the week, mattresses and other soft furnishings have been arriving at Turl Street, and it won’t be long before they are rehoused at Cohen Quad.

The three images below show a student bedroom from three angles – the cupboard wall, against which the bed will be placed, the desk space with its lighting above and below the shelf, and the cupboards and drawers, which will provide storage and will house a fridge in each room.

Each room is around 16 square metres and is en-suite, with one large window and one small window to provide as much natural light as possible.

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The cupboard wall

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The desk space

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The storage space

Cohen Quad family kitchens completed

Last week saw the completion of the family kitchens at Cohen Quad, which now await the arrival of soft furnishings.

These three kitchens, envisaged by Rector Frances Cairncross, provide a central space on each residential floor where students can gather, cook and eat together, and get to know each other better.

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One of the completed family kitchens

The first floor kitchen will be named the “Cairncross Kitchen” at the request of many donors who wished to see Frances honoured at Cohen Quad. The kitchen on the second floor will be named the “McRae Kitchen” in recognition of her husband, Hamish McRae, who played an active role in the life of the College during Frances’s rectorship.

The third floor kitchen is at present unnamed and waiting for a donor who would like to support the style of community and collegiate living that Cohen Quad will offer. If you are interested in sponsoring this family kitchen please call 01865 279662.

 

Contractors put finishing touches on student rooms

Over the last few weeks, Mace (our contractors) have been working to finish specific areas of Cohen Quad ahead of handing the whole site over to us at the end of the calendar year.

Last week, focus was on snagging student bedrooms ahead of moving in furniture and fitting out the three student kitchens.

Two other key pieces of work were to build and install the pigeon holes that will be used by the Cohen Quad residents and to pave the Benson Quad and its amphitheatre steps. Each of these steps will be engraved with the names of donors who gave £7,000 or more during the 700th anniversary year and will provide a wonderful outdoor area adjacent to the café where students can sit out and enjoy a coffee – when it’s not raining of course!

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Paving leading into the amphitheatre steps of Benson Quad 

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The pigeon holes