Purcell receives planning for St Catherine’s College on Arne Jacobsen site

Purcell, a UK leading firm of architects, master planners and heritage consultants, has received planning for extensive building works on the site of Arne Jacobsen’s Grade I listed St. Catherine’s College in Oxford. Plans comprise four pavilions and extension works to provide 78 additional graduate bedrooms and a new graduate centre built on the site. The cylindrical graduate centre references Arne Jacobsen’s design and features a new Middle Common Room, a seminar room and a multi-use space on the ground floor.

Founded in 1962, the college’s main campus was designed in its totality by Arne Jacobsen, and is arguably one of the best-preserved pieces of his work. Everything within the original campus was designed or approved by Jacobsen: the buildings, furniture and landscape gardening – even the cutlery. Over the decades, the college has commissioned additional buildings on the site, notably by Jacobsen’s assistant Knud Holscher (1982) and Stirling Prize winner Stephen Hodder (1994, 2005). The entrance to the college with its view over Jacobsen’s watergarden was remodelled by Sir Philip Powell in 1968.

In 2016, Purcell was appointed to extend upon Hodder’s second phase of works resulting in four new pavilions providing 78 graduate bedrooms based around the traditional collegiate staircase layout. The Purcell design, followed consultation with Hodder and approaches the typology set-out by Hodder in Phase II of his works as sensitively as possible.

The standalone cylindrical form of the graduate centre responds sensitively to the site which includes archaeological features and mature trees. The building is clad in bronze both in order to reference Jacobsen’s use of the material, and to contrast with Hodder’s use of stainless steel. The Bronze will dull with time and sit comfortably against the mature trees to the north. The graduate centre is the same height as all the other buildings on the site and uses the design grid that permeates the site.

Matthew Tromans, senior architect, Purcell says:

“It is hugely rewarding working with St Catherine’s College on this exciting project. They have a wonderful architectural legacy of which they are proud custodians. Purcell has significant experience working on complex sites and existing architectural classics. This design continues the established visual language at St Catherine’s, sensitively extending Hodder’s earlier works. The graduate centre references both Hodder and Jacobsen’s work, being purposefully ‘new’, yet of its place.”

Fram Dinshaw, Finance Bursar, St Catherine’s College says:

“This was a demanding brief to make the best use of a difficult triangular site at the North East end of our main campus which partly extends into the Green Belt and Flood Plain. This is our last available space for development and we needed an architect who would both be sensitive to our Grade 1 listed Jacobsen buildings and subsequent additions by Stephen Hodder and equally pragmatic and responsive to the College’s evolving needs. It has been a real pleasure to work collaboratively on the design with Purcell and watch them negotiate all the challenges that the process threw up with imagination, tact, finesse and a healthy dose of common sense.”

Planning page can be found online.