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Out with the old, in with the new

Sian
25 Feb 2010

Multi-purpose auditorium for elite UK university

Rick Mather Architects won an invited RIBA competition to design a new multi-purpose performance space for Corpus Christi College in Oxford. The site is enclosed by the 13th Century city wall and one of its Bastions which separate the College from neighbouring Christ Church College.

Whilst Corpus Christi is one of the oldest Colleges it is also one of the smallest and as such land on its main site is at a premium. The winning scheme more than met the client’s brief while increasing the amount of precious garden area by burying the auditorium within the Bastion and wrapping new gardens over the top. The gardens were reconfigured as a series of interconnecting courtyards and roof terraces stepping up to a roof garden with wonderful views of Christ Church Cathedral and down to the River Cherwell and Isis (Thames) over Christ Church meadows. The building opens onto a new courtyard shared with the Old President’s Lodgings. The two buildings create a protected ‘outdoor room’; a convenient and natural extension for functions in both buildings. Full height sliding glass doors allow the entrance lobby/ function room to be fully opened to the courtyard.

The auditorium space consists of a flat-floor approximately 14m x 10m with flexible bleacher seating that fully retracts into a seat store. This provides an easy transition between the different usages required by the College. The impressive stone bastion wall with its arrow slot embrasures has been exposed internally to create a dramatic backdrop to the main space. Natural light is provided by a skylight affording views up to the Cathedral and windows on the opposite side for views back towards the Garden. A balcony is accessed both by an internal stair and through the garden, provides additional seating for larger performances and doubles as an independent seminar room.

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