Exeter College – Cohen Quadrangle

A ‘third quad’ for Exeter, on the former site of Ruskin College in Walton Street (Alison Brooks, 2017).

Claiming to ‘double the capacity’ of the College’s Turl Street site, this 6,000 m² building is a major development for Exeter, and possibly for college architecture too. This project aimed to reinvent the quadrangle for the 21st century, which in some ways it does. For students, it provides 90 ensuite study bedrooms, ‘family kitchens’, an auditorium, seminar rooms and the ‘learning commons’ – extensive, mostly open-plan, study areas over three floors – with catering services and a café. There are two small flats for Fellows and another for a Junior Dean, and some Fellows’ studies. Two courtyards, on the north and south sides of the site, are visually linked to give the impression of an ‘S-shaped quad’, while runs of timber and concrete arches reference imagined cloisters. The complex also houses the College’s rare books and archive collections.

Architecturally, the Cohen Quadrangle blends new buildings with (relatively) old, by retaining the Walton Street façade and part of the Worcester Place façade of the former Ruskin College (Joseph & Smithern, 1913, listed Grade II). A new, curved mansard roof with an attractive steel shingle covering succeeds in uniting these façades with the new elements to the west. Tall spaces and extensive glazing onto the courtyards gives a feeling of generous space and plenty of light, although a multiplicity of materials, forms and textures makes for a rather eclectic interior.

Packing so many spaces and facilities into an ‘off-site’ college extension is a big step from the student housing blocks of a previous generation, such as Exeter’s own Exeter House (Anthony Pettorino, 2010) on the Iffley Road. A key aim of this ‘reinvention’, however, is to meet the major new requirement of college developments to provide high-class conference facilities, as is apparent from the conference pages of Exeter’s website, which helps to explain the provision of a large auditorium and high standard catering services. While other recent college schemes may have pioneered this time-sharing for students and conference delegates, the Cohen Quadrangle provides a new and sophisticated interpretation of what is fast becoming a new college building type.

Walton Street, Oxford OX1 2HD

© Alison Brooks Architects

Floor plans © Alison Brooks Architects

Sections © Alison Brooks Architects