Cladding, Somerville College Student Buildings - Building Design

Issue 1948
January 2011

Text Amanda Birch
Images Níall McLaughlin Architects

A distinctive feature of Níall McLaughlin Architects’ two new 68-student room blocks for Somerville College, Oxford, is their linear shape – they are only 7.5m wide, while the larger of the two is 67m long. The buildings’ form was primarily defined by the constraints of the long and narrow site, says associate Beverley Dockray, and they were designed to make maximum use of prefabrication. The facades employ a palette of brick, concrete and European oak.

“We have tried to break up the facade by grouping the elements together,” says Dockray. “The communal student facilities form a recess in the facade and give it punctuation, and the stair towers at either end of the blocks, which use mainly brick and timber, act as visual markers along a new pedestrianised street between Woodstock Road and Walton Street, called the East West Link.”

The student rooms will eventually look out onto a redeveloped site masterplanned by Rafael Vinoly Architects, occupied until 2007 by Radcliffe Infirmary. The 4.3ha site, now owned by Oxford University and renamed the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, has been flattened, with only the listed buildings and Radcliffe Observatory retained.

In its competition-winning scheme, the architect squeezed the £8.5million student accommodation into the narrow space provided, which backs on to an existing boundary wall. The two blocks are separated by a 12m-wide gap which has been made possible by removing a section of the boundary wall. This also provides a visual connection between the college and the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. A gate and railings will be inserted here as the college requires a secure perimeter around its buildings.

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