Belsize Architects' completion of the University College Boathouse in Oxford
The original 19th Century boathouse of University College Oxford
succumbed to arson in 1999. It took the college almost eight years before they organized an invited design competition to replace the former Grade II listed structure. Belsize Architects were one of four architectural
practices invited to submit a proposal to meet the college’s requirements
for a building which would provide rowing, social and residential
For Belsize Architects, the new boathouse did not need to be as traditional
in appearance as its predecessor, but it still had to be able to support as
much tradition and pride as was invested in the original building. Our
proposal, having won the competition in June 2004, was completed in
October 2007 at a cost of £2,100,000.
Creatively, the design concept for the new Boathouse draw upon two main
principles, which are directly inspired by the sport of rowing:
Firstly, the boats, the oars, the water, all exhibited unique characteristics,
which were manifested in the copper roof. The goal was to achieve a sort of
blade cutting the sky, as the scull cut the river that first day we visited the
site. The roof, like the shell of that boat, stretches over the entire building to provide shelter over the rowers and spectators.
Strategic penetrations through it allow streams of light to filter into core areas. Keeping the roof as thin as possible and cantilevering it from the building gives uninhibited views to all sides, directing people's focus to the building's surroundings.
Secondly, we wanted the ground level of the building to carry a lot of
mass for storage & security reasons, in as much as to prevent the
occurrence of another arson attempt. Brick was an obvious choice of
material for both its resistance to tampering, as well as its use as the
predominate material of the previous building.