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Block A, Block B, Block C, Block D, Block E, Block F, Block L at Oaklands College City Campus

A Grade II Listed Building in St Albans, Hertfordshire

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Latitude: 51.7544 / 51°45'15"N

Longitude: -0.3299 / 0°19'47"W

OS Eastings: 515375

OS Northings: 207505

OS Grid: TL153075

Mapcode National: GBR H84.TPQ

Mapcode Global: VHGPQ.75GF

Plus Code: 9C3XQM3C+P2

Entry Name: Block A, Block B, Block C, Block D, Block E, Block F, Block L at Oaklands College City Campus

Listing Date: 14 February 2003

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1392956

English Heritage Legacy ID: 506022

Location: Clarence, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, AL1

County: Hertfordshire

District: St. Albans

Electoral Ward/Division: Clarence

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: St Albans

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: St Albans St Peter

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans

Tagged with: Architectural structure

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Block A, Block B, Block C, Block D,
575/0/10043 Block E, Block F, Block L at
Oaklands College City Campus


College of Further Education, now part of Oaklands College. 1958-60 by Hertfordshire County Council Architect's Department, John Wakely job architect. Canteen range extended 1965-6. Hills' 2'8" light rolled steel frame, with subsiduary aluminium cladding system set off the grid and infilled with glass and grey spandrel panels. Most bays are 5'6" wide (two units) but there are contrasts of 2'8". Western red cedar boarding, now stained black, and blind walls of purple brick provide a contrasting vertical emphasis to the horizontality of the glazed areas. Flat roofs supported on light welded lattice roof beams. Most windows with narrow full with rectangular lights at the top of the frames, some with opening lights. Some areas have full-height glazing, others have infill spandrels below dado height. Double doors of timber, with glazing panels.

The former St Alban's College of Further Education comprises series of five college buildings, mostly linked by covered ways at ground level, while B, D and E blocks are linked by a glazed first-floor bridge. Each building will be described in turn, but it contributes to a coherent whole along with the raised beds and steps between them. Interiors were always simple and designed to be flexible, as the needs of the college were subject to continual change; the stairwells have been upgraded not inappropriately to meet fire regulations.

Block A is a rectangular block of two storeys and sixteen bays, built for teaching arts and crafts. Interiors simple, with flexible studio spaces set around a staircase with steel balustrades, timber handrail and open treads. Narrow bays of one 2'8" unit break up the repetitive pattern of the grid.

Block B is a square building of ten bays and four storeys, each originally with a classroom in each corner and a central area with stairwells and broad landing on each floor; the upper floor adapted as a computer area. Staircases have steel balustrades, timber handrail and open treads. Link, glazed at first floor level and open below, to blocks D and E.

Block C is the `L'-shaped canteen, one high storey with full-height glazing to central courtyard under grey fascia and central opening lights. Big timber double doors This continual glazed elevation is the boldest expression of the lightness of the system. Six-bay return treated similarly over dado cladding. Extensions to rear in keeping but not of special inherent interest.

Block D is largely double height, with two-storey range to front that connects the glazed link to the former caretaker's flat, now offices, at the western end of the building. D has full-height glazing to large areas, with purple brick walling to sides. Entrance to left, and stairs from link, give on to small shop area lined in timber, denoted externally by timber fascia. Pairs of thick timber double doors with glazing panels on north elevation, cedar boarding at junction with link provides contrast of light and dark. Large double-height hall with stage also has boarded cedar linings, here vertical. Double landing and stairs leading to caretaker's flat - two separate routes in the one stairwell.

Block E is an 18-bay rectangle of two storeys containing administrative offices, with stairwell at ends denoted by changes in the glazing. Full-height glazing under roof-level fascia to upper storey, dado panels to ground floor. Single unit 2'8" bays break up the repetitive Miesian pattern of the grid. Interior has staircase with steel balustrades, timber handrails and open tread stairs.

Block F to the rear is the science block, with ground-floor classrooms and on the first floor, four laboratories for biology, chemistry etc set around a central preparation area and reached from two staircases. The plan is very economical of circulation space. Elevations reflect this greater dignity, with two blind panels of cedar boarding on the main elevation contrasted with alternating narrow and broad bays of glazing. Regular 5'6" panels to sides. The staircases have steel balustrades, timber handrails and open treds, while the labs have science benches and built-in cupboards and shelving.

L is the gymnasium, formerly shared by the College of Further Education and the Hertfordshire College of Building and closing off the vista at the end of Block E. Same 2'8" grid, but part infilled with light yellow brick below clerestoreis on the two long sides. Glazing to end bays of these elevations. Blind end walls. Interior has open truss roof to high single-storey main space, which also has an end climbing wall.

Glazed 16-bay link with full-height glazing and tiled floor, double doors at each end, joins Blocks B and D, with spur to entrance on side of E, all at first-floor level. Attached low wall of purple brick and steps to front of block E supports raised paved and pebbled areas, set between paviours that follow the grid of the building; kidney-shaped beds originally designed to protect existing fruit trees in front of canteen are lined with pebbles. Retaining wall of purple brick to raised garden area to east of blocks E and F.

RIBA Bronze Medal 1960.

The population of Hertfordshire more than doubled between the 1930s and 1960s, as young couples left London to seek work and better living conditions in the new and expanding towns. Their children had to be provided firstly with primary education, which prompted the rush of prefabricated schools carefully designed to small children's needs in the late 1940s and which established Hertfordshire County Council Architect's Department as the most progressive practice, private or public, in the country. This spirit lived on in the 1950s, when the demand was for secondary schools, and noticeably revived at the end of the decade when the so-called `bulge' generation required colleges for apprenticeship and vocational courses, and for `O' and `A' level teaching. St Alban's College of Further Education was built primarily for 15-18 year olds, but was always intended for adults of all ages, particularly with its part-time, evening and `leisure' courses. The college was also intended as a feeder to local technical colleges, in the provision of which Herts was notably progressive. It was designed to bring a number of facilities previously scattered around the county on to a single site, and specifically replaced two very large Victorian villas which served as temporary teaching accommodation. Completion of the new buildings was phased over 1959-60, and the villas were then demolished.

St Alban's College of Further Education, together with the former Hertfordshire College of Building alongside, was the first buildings constructed on a 2'8" modular planning grid developed by Herts CC Architect's Department under Jack Platt. Its development marked the culmination of over a decade devoted to the development of a system that was flexible, elegant and economical, and whose components could be adapted to single or multi-storey use on a wide range of sites. St Alban's was followed by three more colleges built to the same system, but none are so well composed or carefully detailed. Extra care was taken on the prototype, with a slightly larger budget, or, as Andrew Saint has written (p.110), `as these colleges were quite complex and costly buildings, the range of these new system could be tested without the rigid cost restraints which would have operated in schools. After them, the system could be refined and brought down in cost for regular application in school building.' The difficulties of the steep, heavily landscaped site were turned to advantage so carefully was the design thought through. The different levels of the building reflect not only the steep slope but the desire to retain mature trees, which were retained in raised beds when part of the surrounding land was cut away. There was also the difficulty of having to build around existing buildings which in use by the college until the new ones were completed, when they were demolished.

For Ian Nairn, this is `an excellent building and a very good proof that a big department can keep up its vitality for a long time. To produce something like this, the mechanical side of architecture must have been organised over the years into something which is almost foolproof. The college is a professional building through and through, with no botched details and no out of the way corners where the inspiration gave out. This is the ripe eloquent fruit of fifteen years of hard work in a local authority office; it is a purely British achievement and on that can stand comparison with the very best that has been done abroad.' (Modern Buildings in London, London Transport, 1964).

RIBA Journal, September 1961, pp.423-6
Architects' Journal, 6 December 1961, pp.1112-1126
Architects' Journal, 7 July 1965, pp.27-33
Andrew Saint, Towards a Social Architecture, London, Yale UP, 1987, pp.102-11
Ian Nairn, Modern Buildings in London, London Transport, 1964, p.77

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