Working in Oxford

Working in Oxford

Working in Oxford

The city of Oxford is dense with outstanding buildings that represent a rich architectural heritage dating back to the 11C. In the latter 20C, the likes of Powell + Moya, Alison + Peter Smithson and Ahrends Burton + Koralek lent their expertise to the provision of new accommodation for the University in built forms that broke with those of the past.

Written by Juliet Aston, Associate Director at MICA

We have been working here since winning an open competition in 1991 for a new building at Keble College, the Arco Building. Our work with Keble is ongoing with our fourth project for the college, a new quad due for completion in 2019, and we are building on this over 20 year history of collaboration with Oxford University Institutions with a new commission at Jesus College.

All our work in Oxford exemplifies the practice approach to working in historic contexts, and follows in the tradition of the late 20C architects mentioned above, in that the building are explicitly modern in expression. The aesthetic of the practice employs simple but rich materials with clean geometries, and is a counter point to the historic styling of the buildings we have worked with, both in Oxford and elsewhere.

Employing this aesthetic, we have defined and characterised new spaces both externally and internally; at Keble, we created the Arco and Sloane Robinson buildings, which by their complementary materiality completed a quad also bounded by Butterfield’s stunning polychromatic brickwork; we are creating an entirely new quad for the college now at the Acland site.

Aerial view of Keble College
Keble College Sloane Robinson Building adjacent to Butterfield's polychromatic brickwork
Keble College ARCO Building adjacent to Butterfield's polychromatic brickwork
1 / 3 Aerial view of Keble College

Within the Ashmolean we created an internal public space, naturally top lit, that unifies each level of the museum from lower ground to roof and provides the centre of gravity for the building as a whole.

This building, The Ashmolean Museum, perhaps our most well-known, shows that even on a grand scale our buildings are not afraid to be subtle. The elegant new galleries, the restaurant, the conservation studios and staff areas, are all concealed behind CR Cockerell’s impressive Greek revival frontage. Where the building does show itself to the street, set back from St John’s Street to the west, it is unapologetically modern, but does not overbear.

Aerial view of Asmolean Museum
CR Cockerell's Greek revival frontage to the Ashmolean and new internal public space
The Ashmolean's new internal public space
1 / 3 Aerial view of Asmolean Museum

Our buildings are often concealed in plain sight in this way, with unobtrusive but unambiguous clues to their presence; the Corpus Christi auditorium, The Queen’s College Library and Mansfield College East Range each exemplify this.

Many of our other Oxford buildings stand clearly within their surroundings; the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at Mansfield, our unrealised Lecture Theatre scheme for Worcester College, and our three building projects for Keble. In these instances, the closely considered scaling of the buildings, and again, materiality, are always key to their success within context.

Queen's College Library extension rooflight
Aerial view of Mansfield College with new Bonavero Institute of Human Rights and East Range
Corpus Christi auditorium
Mansfield College East Range
1 / 4 Queen's College Library extension rooflight

We have worked with nuance and clarity to deliver buildings like these that meet the needs of the client, yet are appropriate in the most sensitive of historic contexts.  Clarity of thought is required in the management of design process, and it is also critical in the handling of statutory processes, which are often extremely complex.  

We enjoy the challenge of delivering to their clients what they need, providing a rationality in use and expression, and of providing spaces and buildings that joyfully surpass their prosaic functions.

Corpus Christi Greenhouse
Corpus Christi Greenhouse

‘From the exquisite gem of the Corpus auditorium, through the magical conjuring of space in Keble’s Newman Quad, to the elegant grandeur of the new Ashmolean, [these buildings are] a testament to the partnership’s unique combination of flair, ingenuity, practicality and unrivalled professionalism’

Roger Boden, Bursar of Keble College, Oxford

Map of Oxford showing RMA/ MICA projects in red
Map of Oxford showing RMA/ MICA projects in red

Written by Juliet Aston, Associate Director at MICA.

Juliet has been working in Oxford since 2005 and has an in-depth knowledge of the city, its history, and its architecture. Juliet has also written the office Oxford Book which further describes our work in the great city. Let us know if you'd be interested to read more and we will send you a copy.


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