Bringing an Oxford icon back to life
Transforming the University of Oxford’s Brasenose College Cloisters had all the challenges that a complex restoration project brings. The team used these constraints to craft some truly beautiful solutions that transformed the historic main library and reading-room spaces.
The Cloisters had fallen into a state of poor repair after several piecemeal alterations made in recent decades, and in particular the archive space had become damp, jeopardising the quality of the College’s historic documents. The space not only needed better functioning services, but also feel much more welcoming, attractive, and versatile – to showcase its history while connecting the upper and lower rooms to allow for flexible use as a library, quiet study area, and host to social/academic gatherings.
All work has to be phased, in order to minimise disruption to students and to the College’s summer conferences. To create spaces perfectly suited to all of the building’s flexible forms, attention to detail was fundamental. All of the essential ‘comfort’ components had to be knitted into the fabric of the space in such a way that it seemed they had always been there, or that they became invisible. We carefully removed parts of the newly uncovered stone floor, and created a trench that the new ventilation ductwork sits in. Discrete displacement ventilation diffusers were built into the fixed element of bookshelves, ventilation was hidden within the tops of book stacks, and exhaust terminals are hidden behind stone benches. The result is a space that feels ‘right’, both in comfort and in look. Added to this, the College’s archives will now be preserved for centuries to come thanks to optimum environmental conditions.