Sunday20 August 2017

Client: Oxford University Estates Directorate

Carbuncle Cup nomination — Castle Mill housing, Port Meadow, Oxford by Frankham Consultancy Group

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Have your say on this year’s nominations

Port Meadow

Port Meadow

BD received more than 20 nominations for Frankham Consultancy Group’s Castle Mill housing, Roger Dudman Way, Port Meadow, Oxford. These are some of the edited highlights:

A deeply unimaginative and impoverished design which would lower the spirits whatever its setting, but on the edge of one of central England’s most important and ancient landscapes, it is an outrage. 

Its roofline does what no other recent development on the edge of Port Meadow has achieved, violate the treeline which is the essential boundary of this rural view; but there is the double whammy that it also hides most of the engagingly eccentric Victorian tower of the parish church of St Barnabas Jericho from view from the west. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins, who wrote movingly of the destruction of trees on the edge of Port Meadow, would be incredulous at this far more permanent pollution of that environment.  The civilised and sensitive element in the university in the Bodleian Library has just bought the MS of his poem on the destruction, Binsey Poplars, for permanent public preservation. Go figure.

Diarmaid MacCulloch
Professor of the History of the Church
University of Oxford

Castle Mill development, Roger Dudman Way near Port Meadow, Oxford is a total catastrophe…. Not only is it a blot on the skyline, and not only is it a bully to its neighbors, and not only is it a set of boxes which have been shoehorned into the wrong place and blocking beautiful views, and not only is the architecture appalling, but it has ruined one of the most beautiful places in Oxford.

It has caused upset and sadness for thousands of people in Oxford. Shame on Oxford City Council and Oxford University.

Designed by Oxford University, they were pushed through the planning process as a ‘variation’ to a much smaller application 10 years extant, which meant that hardly any consultation was done despite this being a major development. No Environmental Impact Assessment was carried out on the grounds that the edge of a Heritage Site was not sensitive.

The eight blocks blot out views of Oxford’s celebrated Dreaming Spires which have been justly protected for centuries, including the landmark view of the grade-I listed St Barnabas tower.

The blocks loom over Port Meadow, altering the nature of the entire several-mile space, and have upset thousands of people, local, national and international. They are so tall and wide that no tree planting, even after 50 year’s growth, could ever hide them and anyway there is nowhere to plant trees.

The buildings themselves are blank, uniformly ugly, and once up and running will spill light pollution right across Port Meadow, to the other side of the River Isis, to Wolvercote three miles away, to the canal side, and to all other walks in the vicinity.

As a result of this precedent-setting by Oxford City Council and Oxford University we can look forward to the destruction of all views from Port Meadow, and all views of the dreaming spires, after all why would one developer be allowed to get away with something and then another not? So this is a carbuncle (or series of eight carbuncles) which if unchecked will spread horribly.

No contest. It has to be the University of Oxford accommodation tower blocks put up with the consent of the City Council without proper consultation, that now dominate the skyline of Port Meadow. The council describes Port Meadow, with its views of the Dreaming Spires as Oxford’s oldest monument that has changed little since prehistoric times”. Well, we can’t have that, can we? Progress has to march on. It’s just a view, after all. Or was.

And the university? For an institution steeped in culture, heritage and learning, they’ve proved themselves to be a bunch of crass money-grubbing philistines. With tin ears to the howls of public outrage.

The siting of it is unbelievably thoughtless. The design? Lazy, oversized blocks. The roofs glare in the sun, the white buildings stand out and can be seen two miles away across the meadow, and the carefully designed glass stairwells will throw out light that will pollute the dark nights. The trees the council planted to try to screen them, have been eaten by the horses

Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. On both the University of Oxford and the City Council.

The architects have built something truly hideous, tending only to the interests of potential inhabitants, not worried about the impact they have on Port Meadow. With so many stunning buildings in Oxford and with its dreaming spires, I am amazed Oxford University chose such a shocking and uninspiring design.

Port Meadow

Port Meadow


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Readers' comments (176)

  • james francis

    What an utter disgrace, it's almost a hanging offence! I am genuinely disgusted by this, sorry but it just got that reaction in my gut.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    Rather than just saying this is a carbuncle (which it is), it would be better to try and prevent it from happening.

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  • @Sceptical - Can we borrow your time machine then?
    As you'd expect, there has been an extensive campaign to prevent this from happening, but alas to no avail.

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  • Mike Duriez

    This comes more into the genre of a master-planning carbuncle, but clearly it is carbuncular in its ambitious endevours to degenerate Oxford. Is should be very well placed to win.

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  • Sue James

    Not only all that has been said above, but there is a very dangerous access and inadequate vehicular access to Roger Dudman way from the Botley Road - accident black spot in the making!

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    Oh well - might as well keep on building then. Look at all that lovely virgin land there. Crying out for development.

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  • Don't see the problem, it's no worse than any other modern university buildings, and you've got to build somewhere. The site appears to be a scrubby bit of waterlogged land in the middle of nowhere, whereas a true winner should be somewhere that people will actally have to see it.

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  • No matter what you do, you still can not beat the extreme glass & steel clad existing chunky concrete block of flats built over 7 years ago in Ealing on uxbridge Road, Ealing Broadway.

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  • Its not just the ugliness of the buildings, but also of the planning process. The buildings clearly should never have been proposed to be so ugly and inappropriate to their magical surroundings, but Oxford University's crassness in proposing the design should have been stopped in its tracks by the City Council. Instead, an extraordinary series of bad practice led to a clandestine approval. Scandalous. Shame shame shame

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  • The pictures say it all!

    Gil Gunderson's comment, above, fails to acknowledge how very many people use the Meadow in very many ways (I assume that she is not local to Oxford). I can assure any readers that there an enormous number of people who are being subjected to views of these hideous monstrosities.

    There appears to have been a complete lack of any aesthetic design involved - horrible, horrible blocks of carbuncleness.

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