Building Study: St Hilda’s College, Oxford by Gort Scott

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The architect has capitalised on the project’s scenic location, opening up the site and using the river for passive cooling. Even the brickwork appears to dissolve, writes Richard Gatti

Gort Scott’s interventions at St Hilda’s College, Oxford can be described in three parts: the pavilion, the Anniversary Building and the landscape.

The pavilion is the showpiece: an event space that sits at the fulcrum of the site, a bend in the river and on-axis with the college entrance. In plan it is pentagonal, and the bulk of the footprint is occupied by a double-height event space, also pentagonal, and fully glazed to give views down the river (in two directions), across to Christchurch Meadows, and back towards the entrance.

While the pavilion is steel in structure (bronzed universal columns are exposed on the inside, while stainless precast tensioning elements are visible in the roof), externally it is defined by bladed precast concrete columns. These increase the depth of the façade, giving a play of light and shadow, and play with the transparency of the building edges – from an oblique view, it appears solid, whereas a more straight-on approach reveals its transparency. As the sides are not parallel, this leads to a perpetual dance of the solid and the permeable.

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