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Gort Scott wins St Hilda’s College, Oxford’s invited design competition

Project will redefine the College estate and realise the potential of its exceptional riverside site

© Malcolm Reading Consultants/Gort Scott

St Hilda’s College has selected Gort Scott to design a new £10m+ front-of-house development for its exceptional riverside site in the conclusion of the Redefining St Hilda’s invited design competition, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants.

A five-strong shortlist was asked to produce concept designs for the new gateway to the College, approached from Cowley Place, which will include social and conference spaces, suites of academic and teaching rooms, a new Middle Common Room and accommodation for students and Fellows. The project will form the centrepiece of St Hilda’s 125th anniversary celebration.

The winning Gort Scott concept design features a slender tower – announcing the entrance to the College on Cowley Place – rooftop gardens with wild-flower planting, and a riverside pavilion. The proposal positions much of the residential and teaching accommodation on the urban boundary of the site, and creates new open spaces which run from the re-positioned College entrance to the River Cherwell and set-up views to Christ Church Meadows and beyond.

The practice was shortlisted for BD’s Architect of the Year awards and their recently-completed office building for Jesus College, Cambridge has been shortlisted for a number of awards this year.

The other finalists in the St Hilda’s private invited competition were 6a architects, DRDH Architects, Hall McKnight and Tim Ronalds Architects.

St Hilda’s College Principal, Professor Sir Gordon Duff, said:

‘The selection of Gort Scott is an exciting moment for St Hilda’s as this development will transform the College’s public face, refresh our rare and lovely riverside setting, and provide much-needed modern spaces and amenities.
‘Gort Scott won the College over because their concept design displayed the most intuitive and natural fit to our organic site. Though this initial design will be refined and developed in the coming months, the scheme is sympathetic to the garden feel of the College: opening-up new vistas and allowing the space to flow. It also positions the College more elegantly on Cowley Place, improving St Hilda’s visibility within Oxford.’

Competition organiser, Malcolm Reading, said:

‘The five finalists each produced wonderful proposals and models – we would like to thank them all for their hard work and application.

‘We were impressed that Gort Scott really engaged with the challenge and the wider site. It is an ambitious brief and it was a pleasure to see the dedication shown by the team in resolving some complex issues.’

Fiona Scott, director of Gort Scott, said:

‘This commission means an enormous amount to us: the whole team here worked incredibly hard and everyone is thrilled to have won.
‘The competition process gave us confidence – there was a well thought-through brief and an engaging process that really gave us the opportunity to explore the potential of the project.
‘Our proposal focused on responding to the riverside setting – making a lyrical pavilion set within the College’s picturesque gardens, framed by a robust building that defines the boundary of the College. The pavilion balances a sense of decorum and gravity from the rhythm of strong brick piers, with a lightness and delicacy that is in dialogue with the changing qualities of the river.’

The College will now work with Gort Scott to develop the winning concept. Construction is due to begin in July 2017.

St Hilda’s College was one of the original group of five women’s colleges founded at Oxford at the end of the nineteenth century. Since 2008, it has selected its undergraduates and graduates without regard to gender. St Hilda’s now has one of the highest proportions of international undergraduate students of any college within the University.

The College’s alumnae include The Economist’s Editor-in-Chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes; novelist, Barbara Pym; crime writer, Val McDermid; biographer and President of Wolfson College, Oxford, Professor Dame Hermione Lee; former United Nations’ Goodwill Ambassador and International Olympics Committee representative, HRH Princess Haya bint Hussein; and news presenter, Zeinab Badawi, BBC World News.