St Hilda’s Oxford

Transformative front of house development for St Hilda’s Oxford riverside site

Early sketches of the proposals that explore vertical rhythms, horizontal datums and window sizes
Early sketch of the proposals as seen from the Botanic Garden that explores vertical rhythms, horizontal datums and window sizes



Gort Scott have completed a significant and transformative development for St Hilda’s College in Oxford, comprising an Anniversary Building and Pavilion, all set in a reimagined landscape. The Anniversary Building defines the boundary of the College, strengthens the street scene on Cowley Place and creates enclosure to the tranquil gardens within the College, whilst the Pavilion nestles on the edge of the River Cherwell within this verdant riverside setting.
The form and layout of these buildings resonate with the meandering river itself and for the first time connect the north and south parts of the College estate.

St Hilda’s was founded in 1893 and the College site has evolved into an informal sequence of buildings set within beautiful gardens on the banks of the River Cherwell. Gort Scott – appointed following an international design competition in 2016 – introduced spatial coherence and a greater sense of place and brought the landscape – one of St Hilda’s prime assets – into the heart of the college.

The previous entrance sequence was underwhelming and confusing, with a distinct ‘back of house’ feel and a large swathe of tarmac that detracted from the potential of the College’s picturesque setting. A small residential building dissected the College grounds at this pivotal location within the estate.

Historic photos from 1895 and 1951
Students rowing on Cherwell, 1895
South Building Exterior, 1951
Competition-winning scheme


After extensive testing, Gort Scott found that removing this structure would be fundamental to delivering the ambitions of the College in creating a connected and more inclusive design that would enhance the experience of St Hilda’s as a place to study, live and work.

“The scheme fits well into its natural and historic setting and frames the key views within the site. The slim fins and the lightweight framing elements create an elegant building.”

Oxford Design Review Panel, May 2017
The design of the tower has undergone many considerable thought and scrutiny, with many and varied iterations tested and assessed

In signalling the new entrance to the College on Cowley Place, the Anniversary Building incorporates a tower. Functionally, this gives access to the amenity roof terrace and two special multi-functional rooms. The design of this structure has been carefully gauged in its height and proportions, so that it is slender yet creates an orienting marker and totem for the College within Oxford, establishing St Hilda’s College within the wider network of Colleges and the University itself.

Alongside the newly legible main entrance and Porter’s Lodge, the Anniversary Building accommodates administrative and academic offices, a Middle Common Room and about 60 ensuite study bedrooms. An expansive planted roof terrace gives further amenity space with remarkable views across the city skyline

A new riverside pavilion building houses lectures and events whilst strengthening the College’s relationship to the riverine landscape. The jewel-like pavilion is in deliberate contrast to the solid boundary building that hugs the campus gardens – instead the landscape appears to flow around and through the lightweight glazed structure.

Early Pavilion study
Proposed Pavilion nestled in the riverine landscape

Gort Scott have successfully reimagined the College spaces as well as the practicalities of offices and student rooms. We are all amazed at the way the project has opened up new perspectives on the College’s riverside gardens and are thrilled with the sight lines from one end of the College to the other accompanied by lush new planting. It really does transform St Hilda’s.

Dr Georgina Paul, Acting Principal, St Hilda’s College

The form and fabric of the building have been designed to inherently help to control internal climate, to provide a comfortable place in which to live and work, by reducing the demand for heating or cooling benefitting from concrete high thermal mass and natural ventilation.

The high hot water usage for student accommodation means that hot water generation represents a significant demand for energy throughout the year. This is optimal for the use of Combined Heat and Power to provide heating for hot water as well as a source of electricity that reduces carbon emissions.

Further information

Data

Location
Oxford
Project type
Workplace and learning, Heritage and adaptation
Budget
£18m (construction)
Status
Completed
Floor area
3412m2

Credits

Client
St Hilda’s College, Oxford
Gort Scott Team
Jay Gort, Chris Neve, Amy Wong, Joe Crawford
Collaborators
Marcus Beale Architects (Heritage Consultant), JCLA (Landscape Architect), Solid Structures (Structural / Civil Engineer), Skelly and Couch (M&E), JPPC (Planning Consultant), Austin Newport Group (Project Manager and QS), Forbes Massie (Visualisations), Malcolm Reading (Project Brief Development)
Contractor
Beard
Photographers
Peter Cook, Jim Stephenson, Amu Chandrakumar

Awards

  • RIBA South Award 2023 - Winner
  • Civic Trust Awards 2023 - Winner
  • 14th ArchDaily Building of the Year Awards 2023: Educational Architecture - Nominated
  • Building Awards 2022: Project of the Year - Shortlisted
  • AJ Awards 2022: Higher Education under £20m - Shortlisted
  • BD Awards 2022: Higher Education Architect of the Year - Shortlisted
  • Brick Awards 2022: Educational Building - Commended
  • Education Estates Awards 2022: Inclusive Learning Spaces for All - Shortlisted
  • RICS Awards 2022: Education - Shortlisted
  • Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT) 2021: New Building Award

Downloads and links

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View of building frontage from across the road.