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.

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.





Formal opening announced

Work at Cohen Quad is continuing apace and is on track to welcome the first cohort of students at the start of Michaelmas Term 2016 – just over five months away!

Meanwhile Exeter College’s Rector and Fellows are delighted to announce plans for a grand formal opening, which will take place over the weekend of 18-19 March 2017.

This event – exclusively for those who have supported Cohen Quad and the Exeter Excelling campaign – will be an opportunity to celebrate all that has been achieved through the generosity of Exeter’s donors over the last 10 years. The event will culminate on the evening of Sunday, 19 March with a celebration in the Sheldonian Theatre and a concert.


There is growing excitement as the College prepares to welcome its first students in Cohen Quad in October this year. There was a wonderful buzz among the student body when the housing ballot took place in Hilary Term and students received confirmation that they will have a place in Oxford’s newest student accommodation next academic year and learned which room will be theirs.

Once the students have settled into their accommodation there will be an array of events over the course of the year for all alumni, neighbours, students, fellows and others who are excited about Exeter’s “third quad”. So many people have been involved in bringing this project to fruition and we would like to thank you all and celebrate this new stage in Exeter’s history.

Supporter Stories: Justin Bronder (2003, Astrophysics) and the Dakota Foundation

At the heart of Cohen Quad will be a café serving hot and cold food and drinks. The café will form a social hub for students and fellows to meet, make friends and lifelong connections, and exchange ideas. It will be named the Dakota Café after the Dakota Foundation, founded by alumnus Bart Holaday (1965, PPE), which has supported the Walton Street development as part of its mission to enhance human capabilities through activities that combine business discipline with charitable intent.


Architect render of the Dakota Café 

Exeter alumnus and member of the Dakota Foundation board Justin Bronder (2003, Astrophysics) visited Cohen Quad in January 2016 with his wife Jennifer (2002, Music) to see how work is progressing at the site.


Inspecting the site from Worcester Place

“I remember being briefed on the planned extension of the College and being blown away by the vision,” he said. “I thought about what it would mean to me, if I were a student again, to have amazing facilities like that so close to the centre of Oxford and to the College’s main site. When I thought about what future Exeter students will have I was kind of a bit jealous!

“I lived at Exeter House before it was renovated. It was part of the Oxford experience I enjoyed, but you might say it was ‘gritty’! Rector Cairncross came to Exeter a year after I started with a vision and did a great job making that vision reality. Exeter House has now been renovated for members of the MCR and the development at Walton Street is a continuation of that vision, with amazing accommodation for members of the JCR and study facilities for the whole College. Cohen Quad has got all the facilities that appeal to modern, professional students. Today it is students at other colleges who will be jealous of Exeter!


Exeter’s Development Assistant Rosemary Hurford (centre) talks Justin and his wife Jennifer through the construction work and the vision for the site

“The Dakota Café reflects the habits of students and professionals and today’s culture. We live in a café culture. The Dakota Café will be an important part of the academic and social life of the College. I’m proud to serve on an organisation that helps make that possible for Exeter.”


Justin and Jennifer in front of what will be the lecture theatre and north-facing quadrangle

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.


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.


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.


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

Students Visit Cohen Quad

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.

Architect Hannah Constantine goes through the plans for Cohen Quad
The Deputy Bursar leads a site tour for students

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:

Laura cropped“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:

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“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:Jake cropped

“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.

The amphitheatre steps of the South Quad, referred to by Laura Cheftel (above)
The Dakota Cafe, looking out onto the steps of the South Quad

Know Your Ruskins

Ever since Exeter announced in 2008 that it had reached an agreement to purchase Ruskin College’s Walton Street campus in Jericho, many Exonians have admitted to being a little confused about their Ruskins (Is that the famous art school? Is it a further education college?). We feel that an explanatory note is long overdue! So here’s the lowdown:

The Ruskin School of Art, part of the University of Oxford, was opened by John Ruskin in 1871 as the Ruskin School of Drawing. It offers a Bachelor in Fine Art degree for undergraduates and a Masters and DPhil in Fine Art for postgraduates. It has two sites, 74 High Street and 128 Bullingdon Road. Exeter welcomes one Fine Art student per academic year. The Ruskin School of Art has no direct connection to Cohen Quadrangle.

Ruskin School of Art on Oxford’s High Street. Photograph by Nic Ansell

In 1899, Ruskin College (originally Ruskin Hall) was founded in the city of Oxford, independent of the University. It “aimed to provide university-standard education for working class people to empower them to act more effectively on behalf of working class communities and organisations such as trade unions, political parties, co-operative societies and working men’s institutes”. Its alumni include British politician John Prescott, Kenyan civil rights advocate Tom Mboya and Siaka Probyn Stevens, Prime Minister and President of Sierra Leone.

Ruskin College is now an affiliate of the University of Oxford, which ensures that its students can access many University facilities such as libraries and social spaces, as well as academic and extra-curricular events and societies.

Ruskin’s campus is in Headington, East Oxford, but its original site was on Walton Street. Its grand red-brick Victorian building was completed in 1913 and various extensions were added over the next 60 years. This is the site that Exeter College purchased in March 2010.

The Ruskin College building soon after completion in 1913. Photograph taken from
Ruskin College garden
Ruskin College from the inside, taken from near the back of the site and looking west to east. The wing on the left-hand side is a 1930s extension. Photograph taken from
Similar view from 2009 after the sale agreement between Ruskin and Exeter was signed, taken from the very back of the site looking west to east. Note the addition of the 1960s grey concrete accommodation block, the 1980s redbrick accommodation block (left foreground) and the subterranean library (centre of image)

Yet the connections between Exeter and Ruskin College go deeper than that. When Rector Cairncross wrote to Exeter alumni in 2008 to tell them of the sale agreement, she said: “There is a nice historical twist to this arrangement. William Morris was an undergraduate at Exeter College, and had close links with John Ruskin. Ruskin College in turn was founded to educate those who were otherwise excluded from education – on principles established through the collaboration of these two social and educational pioneers.”

After the Second World War, an even closer link between the two colleges developed, when Exeter offered a place each Michaelmas term to an entrant from Ruskin to read for an undergraduate degree. You can read about the experiences of Ruskin and Exeter alumnus Tony Moreton (1952, PPE) on pp26-28 of the Exeter College Register 2011.

Exeter College took official possession of the site in October 2012 and all of Ruskin College’s activities were relocated to its newly-renovated campus in Headington.

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Rector Cairncross receives the keys to the former Ruskin College building from Professor Audrey Mullender, former Principal of Ruskin College, in October 2012



We hope that this helps to explain Exeter’s history with Ruskin College and that any confusion between the two Ruskins has been cleared up. Of course, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Finally, fear not: we’ll be back to bricks and mortar in our next Cohen Quad update.

Sources: Ruskin College websiteThe History of Ruskin College by Harold Pollins (1984); Oxford History website; Wikipedia; Ruskin School of Art website; Exeter College Register (2011).