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Blavatnik School of Government

The building was developed by internationally renowned architects Herzog & de Meuron. The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford is an elite institution that prepares its students for leading positions in politics and business. The new building is situated in heterogeneous fabric on the edge of the historic centre and houses departments that had previously been located in a variety of buildings in a single building. The building was officially opened by HRH the Duke of Cambridge in May 2016.

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© Blavatnik School of Government

“The Blavatnik School of Government will become a global centre of excellence for the study of government and public policy. The School’s aim is to teach the practice of government and leadership in ways which will strengthen communities, create opportunities and foster cooperation across the world. The School offers Oxford University a new way to contribute to the world” – Blavatnik School of Government Brochure

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© Iwan Baan

The new build has a complex shape, consisting of a stack of cylindrical and horseshoe-shaped forms which are offset against one another from storey to storey, but connected on the inside by a spiral staircase. The building has been constructed for students pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and was completed at the end of 2015. The majority of the costs were financed by a donation of £75 million by Russian-born, American businessman and billionaire Leonard Blavatnik whom the building owes its name to.

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© Blavatnik School of Government

The practice has designed a distinctive and impressive building. The Blavatnik’s new six-storey home piles unevenly stacked discs that diminish in size and recede from the main road. Transparency is an important concept for the school, which is fully glazed, with each of the discs wrapped in a double-layered glazed skin. Internally, the heart of the 8,000 sq m building is an extremely generous full-height atrium, or forum space, from which it derives its form.

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© Blavatnik School of Government

Herzog & de Meuron’s starting point is from the inside, from the heart of the building, the Forum. This space cuts through the school as a vertical public space connecting all the levels and programs together into one whole. Central to a school of government is the idea of openness, communication and transparency, the central forum takes this principle literally by stitching all levels together. In the first instance the Forum provides access between spaces, but more importantly it provides congregation, meeting and social spaces.

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© Blavatnik School of Government

In Herzog & de Meuron’s proposal it’s arrangement is in many ways like that of an auditorium or a concert hall with a series of interconnected terraces that step up from the ground floor all the way to the upper levels of the School. Each terrace operates as a separate space, for example as a study area or as part of one connected whole volume for a larger presentation. The Forum is a space that allows, and positively encourages, communication and discussion, formal and informal, planned and accidental.

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© Iwan Baan

The Blavatnik School of Government houses teaching and academic spaces which are supported by meeting, administration, research and service areas which are all connected by the Forum. At its lower levels, the building houses large public and teaching programs. The upper levels are occupied by academic and research programs that require a more quiet atmosphere to foster focus and concentration. Crowning the School are student and faculty spaces, which overlook an outdoor terrace, the Radcliff Observatory Quarter and the whole of Oxford beyond. The School offers a wide range of teaching-space types from small flexible seminar rooms to larger, horseshoe-shaped teaching rooms.

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© Iwan Baan

“The building is surrounded by historic architecture of different styles and periods, which makes it difficult for a modern building with a large and complex programme to fit in. We decided on an architecture that evolves around a central courtyard, which inspires and will inspire all other spaces grouped around it. We resolved the urbanistic challenge with a strategy of stacking different forms to break down the size and monumentality of the new institute, and respond to the different scales of the surrounding buildings. We stacked different classical forms – such as a circle, a square, a horseshoe – onto each other. They cantilever in different ways, creating unexpected exterior forms and spaces. We believe this helps integrate the building into its historic context without mimicking any of its stylistic decoration. Besides urbanism and typology, we also insisted on a specific approach to materiality: we opted for sensual and natural materials – namely wood with different surface qualities. They have a tactile quality, they invite people to touch them and lean against them.” – Jacques Herzog / design approach

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© Blavatnik School of Government

Herzog & de Meuron:

Our starting point is from the inside, from the heart of the building, the Forum. This space cuts through the school as a vertical public space connecting all the levels and programs together into one whole. Central to a school of government is the idea of openness, communication and transparency, the central forum takes this principle literally by stitching all levels together. In the first instance the Forum provides access between spaces, but more importantly it provides congregation, meeting and social spaces. In our proposal its arrangement is in many ways like that of an auditorium or a concert hall with a series of interconnected terraces that step up from the ground floor all the way to the upper levels of the School. Each terrace could operate as a separate space, for example as a study area or as part of one connected whole volume for a larger presentation. The Forum will be a space that allows and positively encourages communication and discussion, formal and informal, planned and accidental.

Blavatnik-School-of-Government-By-Herzog-de-Meuron-21-Blavatnik-School-of-Government-798x1200 Blavatnik School of Government / Herzog & de Meuron

© Blavatnik School of Government

The Blavatnik School of Government will house teaching and academic spaces which are supported by meeting, administration, research and service areas which are all connected by the Forum. At its lower levels, the building houses large public and teaching programs. The upper levels around are occupied by academic and research programs that require a more quiet atmosphere to foster focus and concentration. Crowning the School will be students and faculty spaces, which overlook an outdoor terrace, the Radcliff Observatory Quarter and the whole of Oxford beyond. The School offers a wide range of teaching-space types from small flexible seminar rooms to larger, horseshoe-shaped teaching rooms.

Blavatnik-School-of-Government-By-Herzog-de-Meuron-31-Blavatnik-School-of-Government-759x506 Blavatnik School of Government / Herzog & de Meuron

© Blavatnik School of Government

Prominently located at the southwest corner of the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ) the School will be the first building pedestrians, visitors and students encounter when approaching this quarter from the south. The School has the potential to become a gateway into this new part of the University and a symbol of its development.

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© Blavatnik School of Government

The immediate context is a complex situation with the adjacencies of St Paul’s Church and Somerville College to both sides and the Oxford University Press across Walton Street. The concept of the Forum in the interior sets the decisive and room-defining impulse for the entire building. This circular hollow also defines the exterior appearance of the school. Its cylindrical shapes show analogies to government buildings and universities in different places all over the world.

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© Blavatnik School of Government

Our proposal of a series of shifted discs, pure geometric circles, is developed from the parameters of the site and plot boundaries. The shifting in floors creates overhangs and covered volumes and reflects the principles of the masterplan massing with the mass of the building moved northwest towards the centre of the ROQ site. The main entrance is located, in a classical manner, in the middle of the Walton Street elevation, centred underneath the main teaching floor of Level 1 whose circular geometry is transformed into a rectangular form along Walton Street, resulting in a ‘Sheldonian’ like shape. The introduction of this orthogonal form addresses the historic setting in a classical manner, both continuing the line of the St-Paul’s Church portico and echoing the symmetrical entrance of the Oxford University.

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© Iwan Baan

With this proposal we aim to provide a project that can act as a focal point both for the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter and the academic activity of the study of government and public policy; a landmark building housing a ground breaking School.

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© Iwan Baan

Project Data:

Project name: Blavatnik School of Government
Location: 120 Walton St, Oxford OX2 6GG, United Kingdom
Coordinates: 51.759309, -1.264244
Type: School
Internal Area: 7,934 sqm
Construction Period: 2013 – 2015
Completion Year: 2015
Visit Blavatnik School of Government’s Website: here

Awards:

  • 2016 – Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – RIBA Stirling Prize – Shortlist
  • 2016 – Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – RIBA National Award – Winner
  • 2016 – Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – RIBA Client of the Year – RIBA South Client of the Year – Winner
  • 2016 – Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards – RIBA REGIONAL AWARD – RIBA South Awards – Winner
  • BREEAM Awards – with A Rated Energy Performance – Excellent
  • 2016 – Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Award – Category: Best Use of Civil Engineering in a Building Project – Winner
  • 2016 – Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT) Award – Category: New Building – Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: University of Oxford – Oxford OX1 3PA, United Kingdom
Architects:

Design team: 

  • Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Ascan Mergenthaler (partner in charge), John O’Mara, Marinke Boehm, Ben Duckworth, Simon Demeuse

Project Team:

  • John O’Mara (Associate, Project Director), Marinke Boehm (Project Manager), Ben Duckworth (Associate), Simon Demeuse (Associate) Farhad Ahmad, Maximilian Beckenbauer, Frederik Bojesen, Blanca Bravo Reyes, Thomas Cardew, Oliver Cooke, Shane McCamley, Massimo Corradi, Joseph Dejardin, Martin Eriksson, Francis Fawcett, Elizabeth Ferguson, Andrew Gibbs, Stefan Goeddertz (Associate), Jennifer Gutteridge, Shusuke Inoue, Sara Jiménez Núñez, Yuichi Kodai, Áron Lőrincz, Martin Nässén, Tyler Noblin, Julian Oggier, Kristian Pedersen, Holger Rasch, Martha Rawlinson, Nina Andrea Renner, Steffen Riegas, Rebecca Roberts, Raúl Torres Martín, Yves Wanger, Mika Zacharias

Project Manager: Oxford University Estates Services, Gardiner & Theobald
Design & Build contractor: Laing O’Rourke

Engineers:

  • Structural Engineer: Pell Frischmann
  • M&E engineer, lighting and acoustics: Hoare Lea

Consultants:

  • Landscape designer: Townshend Landscape Architects
  • Cost consultant: EC Harris
  • Sustainability consultant: AECOM
  • Facade consultant: Murphy Facade Studio
  • Planning consultant: Montagu Evans
  • Security consultant: Horus Security

Selected suppliers & subcontractors, Manufactures:

  • Carpentry: AC Flooring
  • Ceiling: CG Reynolds
  • Electrical subcontractor: Crown House Technologies
  • Elevators: Kone
  • Facade: Waagner Biro
  • Fire Gates: Coopers Fire
  • Flooring, subflooring: AC Flooring
  • Metalwork: Gascoyne & Beever
  • Mobile partition walls: London Wall Design
  • Turnstiles: Meesons AI
  • Toilet cubicles: Skirmett Supplies
  • Furniture: House of Finn Juhl, Vitra, Modus, Verpan, La Palma
  • Doors: Shadbolt
  • Bespoke lighting: Wila

Text Description: © Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron, iconeye
Images: © Herzog & de Meuron, Blavatnik School of Government, Iwan Baan, flickr-Howard Stanbury

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Blavatnik School of Government / Herzog & de Meuron
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