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Hilda Besse Building Including Stepped Plinth and Paved Approach from West, St Antony's College

A Grade II Listed Building in Oxford, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 51.7635 / 51°45'48"N

Longitude: -1.263 / 1°15'46"W

OS Eastings: 450957

OS Northings: 207456

OS Grid: SP509074

Mapcode National: GBR 7XL.KG9

Mapcode Global: VHCXN.2Y40

Entry Name: Hilda Besse Building Including Stepped Plinth and Paved Approach from West, St Antony's College

Listing Date: 28 September 2009

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1393573

English Heritage Legacy ID: 506060

Location: Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX2

County: Oxfordshire

District: Oxford

Town: Oxford

Electoral Ward/Division: North

Built-Up Area: Oxford

Traditional County: Oxfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire

Church of England Parish: Oxford St Philip and St James with St Margaret

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

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Listing Text

612/0/10190 WOODSTOCK ROAD
28-SEP-09 Hilda Besse Building including stepped
plinth and paved approach from west,
St Antony's College

Hall and common rooms, with kitchen facilities, in a free-standing block. It was commissioned as part of a larger scheme in 1960; final design 1966; built 1967-71. Architects: Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis, partner in charge John Partridge. Engineers: Harris and Sutherland. David Milnaric, interior designer, was responsible for carpets and loose fittings in the common rooms.

MATERIALS: Apart from in-situ concrete floors, the structure and cladding are entirely formed from pre-cast units, the latter incorporating projecting window units. A fine acid-etched finish is used on structural elements while the cladding panels have a larger Cornish granite exposed aggregate. Internal buff concrete brickwork is laid in 5" courses. Brick paviours on the ground floor extend to form an outdoor plinth to the building. The roofs of the hall and common rooms are pre-cast, post-tensioned diagrids with timber undersides to diamond shaped roof lights.

PLAN: The building is rectangular on plan and set on a plinth which is reached by steps on all sides and is approached by a paved walkway to the west. It is divided between informal circulation spaces and grander formal spaces. On the ground floor the foyer is separated by glazed screens from the buttery so that the gardens can be seen through transparent glazed walls on all sides. At the rear or eastern side are small dining rooms. Monumental stairs rise from the foyer to the hall and common rooms, and descend to the basement. At upper level the hall rises through two floors, with kitchens next to it on the first floor, served by a stair and lift bay on the north side of the building. On the floor above are senior and general common rooms entered from a gallery overlooking the hall.

EXTERIOR: Bays are precast with a projecting window unit at upper levels which are designed to throw off rainwater and minimise weathering. The hall windows have blind panels above, the common rooms have panels of strip windows below. Central on the south and north elevations are projecting stair bays which are lit at the corners only. The ground floor is set back and almost entirely glazed. The ground floor supports the upper floors on octagonal columns with large splayed cross heads set on the diagonal. The columns and set-back frame form an alternating pattern. The frame is deliberately expressed, defined by narrow window slits between it and the panels, and jointing is pronounced, giving a Japanese feeling appropriate to a college with strong eastern connections.

INTERIOR: The structure is visibly expressed. The ground floor buttery is divided from the foyer by glazed screens while dining rooms are enclosed by solid partitions. Stairs have open treads with a slightly rounded profile and robust balustrades. The hall and common rooms have a grid of rooflights which are set diagonally to the main frame and have contrasting timber reveals incorporating artificial lighting.

The Hilda Besse building fits into a sequence of Oxford college halls which date from the medieval to Jacobsen's St Catherine's of the early 1960s. It was designed to reflect this historic tradition without impeding the day-to-day efficiency required of the brief. The design acknowledges that traditionally, halls were inward looking and almost unlit, but the space is punctuated by splayed window units which capture framed views of the outside landscape and allow light in while retaining the impact and strength of the walls. The ground floor, treated as an undercroft, has glazed walls panels which admit light and allow views in and out and enabled the intended subsequent phases to be linked easily to the hall. Most internal features are structural expressed with conviction and in fine detail, which are the key to its quality, defined as an 'aesthetic indestructability' (Architectural Review, Feb 1971, 96).

In the foyer bronzes of Anthony of Padua by Mestrovi, and of M and Mme Besse by Oscar Nemon.

HISTORY: This was the first phase of an intended larger composition with study bedrooms and lecture rooms, but as built is physically distinct and complete. Contemporary comment cited: 'The building is beautifully detailed and a tour de force in articulation. The effect achieved by the wide span open coffered ceiling of the dining hall is striking. The lasting impression one retains from both the interior and exterior of the building is that of elegance and amenity' (Architect and Builder Nov 1971, 21). 'St Antony shocks twice. By its insistence on expression, on house style: and by its historical overtones' (Architectural Review op cit, 89). The result is a very formal, monumental building which grasps the fundamental of construction in a clear and supremely successful way. It is perhaps the ultimate expression of the HKPA idiom of prefabricated, post and lintel construction and may be their finest work. Awarded RIBA Architecture Award and Concrete Society Award, 1971.

St Antony's College was founded in 1948 by French shipping magnate, M Antonin Besse. The hall is named after his wife. The College moved into buildings which had been designed in 1866-8 by Charles Buckeridge for the Society of the Holy Trinity. JL Pearson added the chapel, which now houses the library, in 1891-4. The original buildings and chapel are listed Grade II.

Howell, Killick and Partridge set up in practice in 1959, to be joined in 1961 by SF Amis, after coming second in the competition for Churchill College Cambridge in 1959. They had worked together for the London County Council on the Roehampton Estate from 1952 (Grades II* and II). The St Antony's project was one of a group of university schemes produced by the practice in the early 1960s: Ashley and Strathcona Buildings, Birmingham University (Grade II, 1961-2); a scheme for St Anne's Oxford, of which the Wolfson and Rayne buildings were built (Grade II) and the Gatehouse added in 1965-6; and the Houses for Visiting Mathematicians, Warwick University (Grade II*, 1968-70).

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The Hilda Besse building, St Antony's College, Oxford is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* It is a major example of a university building by the practice HKPA, who are acclaimed for their post-war university buildings a number of which are listed;
* It has special architectural interest for its skilful application of concrete in a modern interpretation of the traditional hall;
* It also received the RIBA Architecture Award and Concrete Society Award in 1971 in recognition of its structural ingenuity and architectural elegance.

Architectural Review, October 1963, p275, February 1971, pp81-90
Concrete, June 1971, p191
Architect and Builder, November 1971, p 20-1
Concrete Quarterly, October-December 1971, pp42-7; Autumn 1992, pp16-19
Nikolaus Pevsner and Jennifer Sherwood, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire (1974), pp239-40
Sherban Cantacuzino, Howell Killick Partridge and Amis: Architecture (1981), pp86-9

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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