Learning from Oxford with the Architecture Foundation

Last autumn, six studios took over James Stirling’s Florey Building at The Queen’s College, Oxford as the 2016 Architecture Foundation Masterclass, in an exploration of the spatial sensibilities and architectural character of the contemporary university. The results of that enquiry culminate in an exhibition that opens at Allies and Morrison this week.

While celebrating its fiftieth birthday, the Florey Building nonetheless marks a radical departure from the typological norm of the university building. Masterclass participants, including several from Allies and Morrison, explored how one might recapture the “formal and social adventure” embodied by the Florey Building in a new century, and in a more urbanistic way, by looking at Oxford as a whole as both university and city. As the basis for their wider study, the studios immersed themselves in an older version of Oxford – an 18th century city illustrated in David Loggan’s Oxonia Illustrata, which revealed clearly defined boundaries between the built and the countryside – divisions which have since been blurred.

The exhibition, entitled Six Proposals for a Twenty-First Century University, shares the ideas that came out of this live action inhabitation. Each studio interpreted the juxtaposition between the Modernist spirit of Stirling’s singular building with the pastoral vision of Loggan’s wider Oxford in thoroughly different ways. New schemes ranged from the development of a new super quad typology to a simulation of how 20th-century fragments of Stirling’s architecture could have inhabited an Oxford in the 1600s to a plan for a new Jericho College taking root in the area of Oxford of the same name. Through these demonstrations, the Masterclass has taken one of the world’s great ancient universities and re-imagined it for the twenty-first century, reconfiguring the relationship between city and university in the process.

Six Proposals for a Twenty-First Century University: The AF Masterclass Exhibition is on view at Allies and Morrison, 85 Southwark Street, from 16 May to 6 June. Open to the public, weekdays, 10am – 5:30pm.