Corpus Christi College

Corpus Christi College

The new auditorium at Corpus Christi College meets a need that the College has been lacking for several hundred years; a space for theatre, music and dance, and for the whole College to meet together under one roof. Several other important functions are also catered for including lectures, conferences and the occasional college parties.

Client

Corpus Christi College

Location

Oxford, UK

Size

360m²

Value

£2.1m

Dates

2005–2009

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 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. 

The Corpus Christi brief was for an auditorium which will be one of the college’s major public spaces, a meeting place for the academic, musical and theatre life of the College and the focus for conferences and the location for their plenary sessions. The variety of functions include: academic lectures, music recitals, film shows, theatrical performances, conferences, board-room meetings, practice facilities for music, social events and exhibitions. These necessitated the flexibility to provide both seating for 150 people and a flat floor arrangement in a building which is; visually appropriate in the historic surroundings, constructed of high quality materials, operationally versatile for all the necessary uses, energy efficient and deliverable. 

Corpus Christi is one of Oxford's oldest colleges founded in 1517 and consequently the most significant issue that has shaped the project has been conservation. The building site is set within a Scheduled Ancient Monument, in a Registered Garden and Conservation Area. The adjacent College buildings are all Grade I listed. The site was deemed, by the City Archaeologist, to be potentially the most archaeologically important in the city centre. Throughout the project there was a process of consultation with Oxford City Council and English Heritage combined with archaeological intrusions to ensure that the design evolved in accordance with their requirements. The neighbouring Christ Church College also had a significant input ensuring that their interests in terms of noise and overlooking were protected. The location of the site necessitated a complex construction process and a lot of goodwill from Christ Church College over whose land materials had to be delivered.

The challenges that were overcome highlight the issues involved in designing and procuring a modern building in a highly protected historical context. The process is not one of following a set of rules, but rather a series of consultations and negotiations with various experts and interested parties, each with their own distinct agenda. 

Materials were chosen to knit the building into its historic surroundings. The principle concern was to maintain airtight construction to minimise both noise break in/out and thermal loss. The main walls are cavity walls constructed from ashlar limestone which has been recycled from the previous structure. Lead panels are hung on offset timber construction to minimise acoustic penetration. Highly insulated double glazed curtain walling with additional secondary glazing maximise the light infiltration while minimising noise break out and heat loss and gain.
Internally, the exposed bastion walls act as a heat sink in winter and coolth store in summer. Acoustically the uneven surface provides full reverberant acoustics which amplifies music recitals. Timber cladding at the back of the auditorium adds to the reverberant noise. An acoustically absorbent screen at the front of the auditorium and curtain around the bastion enable the sound to be baffled as required for the different functions and double as a back drop and manoeuvrable screens for theatre productions.

Stuart Cade Project Director for Rick Mather Architects

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Gardener's Green House 

Relocation of the Gardener's facilities formed part of the enabling works for the new Multi-purpose auditorium at Corpus Christi College. The site replaced cycle sheds in Garden quad which forms part of the registered gardens and is surrounded by Grade I Listed buildings.

The facilities are largely masked by an existing stone wall. A structural glass box - made from four pieces of laminated glass and structural silicone- sits on stone plinth protruding from the wall and forms a display case in which the gardener can display his wares. The glass box occupies the depth of the adjacent flower beds which enables the diverse planting in the beds to merge with the display planting in the greenhouse.

The romantic gardens at Corpus are revered by many and the new display case gives the gardener the opportunity to cultivate his diverse collection of plants and objects on public display.

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